Most countries changed the name of the holiday after World War II, to honor veterans of that and subsequent conflicts. Most member states of the Commonwealth of Nations adopted the name Remembrance Day, while the United States chose All Veterans Day (later shortened to Veterans Day) to explicitly honor veterans of all conflicts. “Armistice Day” remains the name of the holiday in France, Belgium and New Zealand.
In many parts of the world, people observe two consecutive minutes moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. local time as a sign of respect in the first minute for the roughly 20 million people who died in the war, and in the second minute dedicated to the living left behind, including wives, children and families.
I mentioned to a friend that I was writing a post for Veterans Day and she said, “For next May?” She is certainly not the only person to confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day. Memorial Day has become synonymous with the start of summer – and diluted in meaning because of that. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.
The Poetry Foundation mounted a nice page of links collected by Becca Klaver of classic and contemporary poems that explore Veterans Day.
Poems on this theme have a wide range of approaches.
War’s impact is felt in the veterans’ hospitals visited by Ben Belitt in “Veteran’s Hospital.”
“Veterans of the Seventies” by Marvin Bell looks at soldiers who went AWOL, while “Debridement” by Michael S. Harper looks at Congressional Medal of Honor winners.
Other poems include “Armistice” by Sophie Jewett, “Troop Train” by Karl Shapiro and “Song of Napalm” by Bruce Weigl along with articles and essays.
Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem, “Facing It” about visiting the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. duplicates the experience I had the first time I saw the Memorial. I watched people around me touch one of the 52,022 names on the polished black stone as if they were touching the person.
Komunyakaa’s poem begins:
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
Another article on the site asks Can Poetry Console a Grieving Public? I’m not sure that it always can, but I know it often tries.