What does celebrating Veterans Day look like while overseas during a time of war? Monuments Man Captain Robert Posey recalled in a November 11, 1944 letter to his wife and son that, for him, it was spending the holiday in the generous company of local families in Lorraine, France. In between inspecting the surviving conditions of French monuments for the MFAA, such as the Church of Saint Nicolas and the 1720 Chateau d'Haroue by French architect Germain Boffrand, Captain Posey wrote home:
Today is a celebratory day in France. Their celebrations are quite different than ours. In the mornings they put on their best clothes and go to church. Until noon they are very sober-faced and polite. Even the children are quiet. However, after church and lunch, all of their far-famed gaiety bursts forth. And so, from a polite ‘Bonjour Monsieur’ and a tip of the hat in the morning, the change is to a hearty grin and wave of the hand. The evening becomes one of dining on the best food and wine affordable with one’s friends…There are lots of fine people in France and this is the way they celebrate Armistice [D]ay of another war.
Why did Posey write Armistice Day instead of Veterans Day? While World War I officially ended by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in late June of 1919, fighting between the Allies and Germany had ceased due to an armistice, or a formal agreement to stop military operations, on November 11, 1918 (on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month). In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared that November 11th would be the first commemoration of Armistice Day, which would not become a legal holiday until the passing of the Act of May 13, 1938. It was not until 1954 that the 1938 Act was amended by President Dwight D. Eisenhower from exclusively honoring World War I veterans to honoring all veterans under the new name of Veterans Day.
As we take time to celebrate Veterans Day this year, perhaps with good food and friends as Captain Posey did in France, let us not forget its true importance of honoring the courageous efforts of those who served and are currently serving in the military. The Monuments Men Foundation extends its sincerest gratitude to our U.S. servicemen and women!