Today is Veterans Day, the day which originally commemorated the Armistice of World War I. On this day, the eleventh day of the eleventh month (1918) at precisely 11:00am (French time) hostilities ceased. In fact, soldiers were still being attacked, wounded, and killed up until the last minute even though everyone knew the Armistice was imminent. Though the Germans signed the Armistice at 5:09 in the morning and had asked the Marshall of France, Ferdinand Foch, to end the hostilities right away, Foch refused to and set the arbitrary elevens as sacrosanct. The peculiar aesthetic of the three elevens was too compelling for him. On the last day of the war there were 10,9994 casualties of whom 2738 died.
The US Navy fired its last shot from 14 gauge railway guns at 10:57:30 which landed far behind the German lines. The allied high command knew the ceasefire was imminent yet still sent young soldiers to attack. Perhaps some doubted that the cease-fire would hold and wanted to make sure they held the best positions if the fighting resumed. Some have said that the militaries didn’t want to haul excess ammunition so decided to use it up on the enemy. Some have claimed that Foch was putting pressure on the reticent German negotiators even though the Germans wanted the Armistice to occur two days earlier on the 9th. It is clear that the French high command was embarrassed that they knowingly sent so many to their deaths on that last day of the war. In fact, orders were given (it is still unclear who gave those orders) that the markers for many of the French who died on the last day in the last minutes of the war were to be backdated to the day before. The French soldier Augustin Trebuchon, who had fought since the beginning of the war in 1914, was killed at 10:45am carrying a message to his unit that hot soup would be served following the cease-fire.
Henry Gunther, an American of German descent, is considered to be the very last soldier killed in World War I. On orders, he was charging German soldiers who were very surprised to see an attacking soldier because they knew the cease-fire was about to begin. They shot him in self-defense 60 seconds before the end of the war.
On this Veterans Day it is important to remember all those who have sacrificed and given their service in support of their country. It is important to honor their patriotism and how far they were willing to go to defend the security and safety of this country. But this day should also be a reminder that such sacrifice can never be taken lightly, that non-military solutions to conflict always need to take priority whenever possible, and that life is way more precious than the peculiar aesthetics of the three elevens.