By Mary O’KEEFE
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. On Nov. 11, 1918 a temporary armistice between allied nations and Germany went into effect in “the war to end all wars,” otherwise known as World War I.
Back then the day was called Armistice Day, through the years and the wars the day changed from honoring only WWI veterans to American veterans of all wars.
That tradition of honor was held at Two Strike Park on Wednesday when veterans from the American Legion Post 288 and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1614 stood vigil from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the memorial at Two Strike Park.
“The day honors everyone that has served in the military. We have Memorial Day but that is the day we honor the dead. This is the day we honor those [living and who have passed] who have served [their country],” said Mike Baldwin, American Legion Post 288 adjunct.
The ceremony at Two Strike also included the setting of the Missing in Action/ Prisoner of War table by the Crescenta Valley High School JROTC.
The table is set for five: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. The chairs are tilted toward the table to represent empty places reserved for the Americans still missing.
M/Sgt. Wilson Legiuzamon, mentor/teacher of the school’s JROTC program explained the setting:
The table is round to show everlasting concern for the missing men. The tablecloth is white symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty. A single red rose in a vase reminds us of the life of each of the missing and their loved ones who keep the faith awaiting an answer of their fate. The vase is tied with a yellow ribbon as a symbol of the continued determination to account for the missing. A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured. A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families. The glass is inverted to symbolize their inability to share this afternoon’s toast. The chairs are empty for the missing.
“We are remembering those who are missing. It is not just about the individual but about the missing as a whole,” said Yung Chung, a sophomore and member of JROTC.
He added that the ceremony requires practice and balance. Everything is placed at a precise time and in a precise place but the practice paid off as the ceremony went on with dignity and honor.
A flag retirement was also held at the park lead by Boy Scout Troop 288. When an American flag is tattered or damaged it cannot be thrown away but disposed by burning in a retirement ceremony.
“This ceremony is a little different than others. The flags are cut into strips and handed out to the audience who can then place them on the fire. That way it involves everyone,” Baldwin said.
Scoutmaster Bob Fletcher spoke of the honor due the flag as it is destroyed.
“We do not burn the flag in anger but in respect. We are releasing its spirit,” he said.
Those in the audience were given a strip from the flag and slowly walked to the bonfire where they placed the flag.
“The Nation honors veterans twice a year with Memorial and Veterans’ Day but today places an emphasis on those veterans who came back,” said Warren Spayth, commander of the VFW.
The vigil, MIA table and flag ceremony are emotional events. For some they bring back memories of fallen friends and families and for others the memories of time served washes over them.
Baldwin served in Vietnam. He said his transition from soldier to civilian was not as difficult for him as it was for others who had returned. He did return to the protest but he was lucky to have a family waiting for him.
The American Legion and VFW have seen a decline in their membership throughout the country. New veterans from the Gulf War and present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not joined in large numbers.
“I think it is the same in other organizations like the Moose and Elks Lodge. We all have problems with membership,” Baldwin said.
The VFW and American Legion will often find their numbers increase years after the war. Like Baldwin, veterans who are returning home want to go back to their lives. It is not until later many find these veterans’ organizations and join.
“I didn’t become an active member until around 1990. I was busy raising my family,” he said.
But the organizations play a role in the veterans’ lives not only with camaraderie but with assistance with veterans affairs.
“Both the Legion and the VFW do what they can to help veterans,” he said.
An example of that support came this year when the organizations fought for veterans health rights when it found military personnel would have to use private insurance to care for their injuries, Baldwin said.
“But the American Legion and VFW went to bat for them and said no the [Veterans Administration] has to help. It is important that we do go before Congress for [these types of issues] We have three million members,” he said.
The day was designed to focus on veterans not about the war they fought in or the political strive that may have followed their return but of their service to their country.
Baldwin like other veterans understand what it is like to leave the military behind and move into civilian life.
“One of the things I encourage veterans to do is to talk, especially if they didn’t wash themselves of the memories [of war]. Let the veteran tell his own story, “ he said.
And on Nov. 11 the day is set aside to listen, remember and honor.