Today is Armistice Day. In this country we call it Veterans Day. In the British Commonwealth it’s called Remembrance Day. But whatever it may be called today, this holiday has its roots in Armistice Day, a commemoration of the symbolic end of World War I – the war that dramatically changed the face of Europe; the “war to end all wars” that set the stage for conflicts that continue today; the war in which more than 20 million people died.
Ninety years ago today, the Allies and Germany signed an armistice at Rethondes, France, ending the hostilities on the Western Front. The armistice took effect at 11 a.m. that day. That is why I, and many other people around the world, paused this morning at 11 a.m. to observe a two-minute silence as a sign of respect for those who died in World War I and in all the wars that have followed.
But although there will be wreath-laying ceremonies and speeches throughout the nation today, for far too many people this will be a day like any other day.
President-elect Barack Obama will reportedly lay a wreath in Chicago today, but as I write this, the AP reports don’t even indicate where the ceremony will be.**
At 9:30 a.m. this morning in Madison, the VFW Post 1318 band performed as part of a ceremony at the State Capitol. When VFW Post 1318 was chartered in 1926, it chose to honor Lieutenant Marion Cranefield, a Madison man killed in action during the Battle of Grimpettes Woods, a location not far from Roncheres, France. Cranefield, who is buried in Madison’s Forest Hill Cemetery, was killed on July 31, 1918, only a few months before the armistice.
A theater piece based on letters written by and to soldiers serving in Iraq, “Letters Home” is not specifically about Armistice Day, but it is about veterans and attending it may be another way to remember and honor those who’ve served their nation in the military.
Produced by Chicago’s Griffin Theatre Company and directed by William Massolia, who also adapted the letters for the stage – a process he says involved a bit of tweaking, but very little editing – “Letters Home” will be performed tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theatre.
Answering questions last evening after a sneak preview of the production presented at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, Massolia said “Letters Home” has nothing to do with politics; he just wanted the piece to be about soldiers’ lives – doing their jobs and trying to stay alive.
“Letters Home” includes letters written by two women members of the Wisconsin National Guard: SPC Michelle Witmer and PFC Rachel Bosveld, both of who were killed during combat operations.
There will be a talkback after tonight’s performance. Perhaps Witmer’s family will stay to participate. Massolia expects them to attend the performance: It will be the first time they’ve seen “Letters from Home.”
For additional information about “Letters Home,” or to purchase tickets for the performance, call the Overture Center at (608) 258-4141.
**Update: About an hour ago, the AP reported that, “One week after winning the presidential election, Obama took a brief break from his primary tasks of mapping out his administration and monitoring the economic crisis to mark Veterans Day at the bronze soldiers memorial between the Field Museum and Soldier Field in Chicago… The Illinois senator, who will inherit wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from President Bush, was accompanied by Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who lost her legs in combat”