Mares: Armistice Day

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(Host) For Veterans Day, former state legislator and commentator Bill
Mares went in search of one thousand missing World War One veterans and
found them – in a Burlington basement.

(Mares) Ninety four years
ago at the 11 th hour of the 11 th day of the 11 th month of 1918, an
armistice was signed for The Great War, "the war to end all war," as
President Woodrow Wilson optimistically called it. The day came to be
known as Armistice Day, and eventually Veterans’ Day.
Across the
world, survivors confronted the sad task of commemorating the more than
9 million dead, including about 116,000 Americans. On a per capita
basis, Canada lost 7 times that many troops.
Alone among the
great powers, the United States had been through such a mass catharsis
of mourning before. More than 600,000 troops north and south had died in
our Civil War. Proportionately, this number would equal almost 8
million deaths today. There were Civil War monuments in almost every
American village, town and city. Historian Howard Coffin has written,
"Below the Mason/Dixon line they always face north, never showing a back
to the Yankees. Up North, particularly in Vermont, they face any which
way, perhaps displaying a casual confidence born of victory."
World War One only a few Vermont towns put up "doughboy" statues or
lists of veterans and the dead. The rest joined in a national debate to
replace traditional static statuary with "living memorials."
people criticized the mass produced statues as "idolatry." And d eath
became something of a social taboo in the Roaring Twenties – a time
dedicated to pleasure and the rush to return to what President Harding
called "normalcy." There was also a generalized distaste for the past.
And as the automobile came to dominate city planning, function replaced
form and utility supplanted ornament.

There was even disapproval
over the "waste" of devoting material and space to traditional
monuments. An English critic wrote: "Would not a pleasant, tidy little
house in every village bearing on a panel, Memorial Cottage, and other
words and names, be the most touching, significant, and beautiful of all
possible monuments? The people have asked for houses, and we have given
them stones."

The "living memorials" that were constructed
included playgrounds, buildings, highways, bridges, parks, libraries,
community centers, and athletic fields. Soldier Field in Chicago,
Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia , and civic auditoriums like those in
Barre and Burlington are prominent examples of this movement.

audience members attending one of the many events held at Burlington’s
Memorial Auditorium, don’t realize that seven bronze plaques in the
lobby are inscribed with one thousand names – from A to M – of
Burlington veterans who fought or died in World War One.

remaining plaques, listing 1000 more veterans – with names from N to Z –
are stacked like forgotten folding chairs in the basement under the
south stairway. Perhaps it’s time to put them back on the walls of what
was built as a Memorial Auditorium. Whether you call it Armistice Day or
Veterans Day, it seems to me that this Sunday would be the perfect day
to make that resolution.

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