Veterans Day

November eleventh is a day Americans honor men and women who have served in the United States armed forces. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA, from VOA Special English. This week -- a report about Veterans Day.

The United States has nineteen-million war veterans. But the term "veteran" is not just for soldiers who have served in wars. It describes anyone who has ever been in the military.

On November eleventh, communities across the United States hold ceremonies to observe Veterans Day. Parades take place on this holiday. Military bands play. The president and other public officials give speeches. And, soldiers fire guns into the air to remember those who died in service to their country.

There is a separate holiday to honor members of the armed services who were killed. The United States observes Memorial Day in May.

Congress wanted the nation to hear the stories of its older veterans. Many veterans have reached old age. Each day, more than one-thousand veterans die. So, in two-thousand, Congress created a program to keep these memories alive for future Americans. It is called the Veterans History Project.

The Library of Congress Folklife Center collects recorded stories and written histories from veterans. It also gathers memorable objects.

The Veterans History Project includes people who served in World Wars One and Two. It includes men and women who served in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War in nineteen-ninety-one. People who served in civilian jobs in the military are also invited to take part.

Many people called World War One "the war to end all wars.” It lasted from nineteen-fourteen to nineteen-eighteen.

The United States entered the fighting in nineteen-seventeen. In April it declared war against Germany. But the United States armed forces were small. So the government ordered every man between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one to report for military duty.

The men came from cities and farms. Some were rich. Others were poor. There were doctors, lawyers, businessmen, professional athletes and college students. Many were married.

More than nine-and-a-half million men reported for duty in June of nineteen-seventeen. The military chose about six-hundred-thousand to serve. They went through military training camps before going to France.

The following year, the government expanded the draft. Now it called on all men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five. More than thirteen-million reported for duty. The Army did not have enough bases to train all the new soldiers. So, it used many colleges and universities as military training centers.

The Navy and Marine Corps had about eighty-two-thousand men when the United States entered World War One. A year later, there were almost three times that many sailors and Marines.

Many women joined the armed forces, too. Most got office jobs at military bases in the United States. Some, however, went to France as nurses in battlefield hospitals.

A man named Alvin York was honored as one of the greatest American heroes of World War One. He came from a poor family in the state of Tennessee. He opposed all wars. He said his religious beliefs prevented him from killing. But he was forced to join the Army. He was sent to fight the Germans who invaded France.

Alvin York shot many enemy soldiers. He was responsible for capturing one-hundred-thirty-two German prisoners. The United States and France both honored Sergeant Alvin York for his bravery.

World War One ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Germany surrendered at eleven o'clock in the morning on November eleventh, nineteen-eighteen.

On that day, thousands of Americans were completing their military training in the United States. Others were either in France or on boats sailing to France.

American soldiers who had fought overseas wanted to return to the life they knew before. Almost overnight, the number of troops in the American armed services dropped to what it had been before the war.

In nineteen-nineteen, President Woodrow Wilson signed a declaration of November eleventh as Armistice Day in the United States. It would be a day to honor the men and women who had served in the American armed forces during the war.

About two-million Americans served in Europe during the First World War. More than one-hundred-sixteen-thousand were killed. Two-hundred-thirty-five thousand others were wounded.

In nineteen-twenty-six, Congress made Armistice Day a national holiday. But new problems were on the way. Soon, everyone knew that World War One had not been the war to end all wars.

In all, more than four-million Americans served in the armed forces during the First World War. Four times that many would serve during the second.

Most of the Americans who served in World War Two in Europe and the Pacific were eighteen or nineteen years old. They were the children of World War One veterans.

The United States entered the war in December nineteen-forty-one, after Japan attacked the Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

During World War Two, Americans came to learn the names of men like Audie Murphy and Carl Klett.

Audie Murphy was the son of farm laborers in Texas. He was a teen-ager when he joined the Army and went to fight in Europe. Over a period of three years, he earned thirty-three medals for bravery. These included the Congressional Medal of Honor. He killed more than two-hundred-forty enemy soldiers and captured others.

After the war, Audie Murphy became famous as a Hollywood movie actor.

Carl Klett was a flier from Chesterton, Indiana. He piloted supply planes. In nineteen-forty-four, he had made seventy-five flights over a dangerous mountain area in Burma. Seventy-five was the number of flights required for a pilot to be sent back to the United States.

But Lieutenant Klett heard that an Army hospital in the Burmese jungle needed medicine and equipment. He offered to make one more flight. His plane crashed, and he was killed.

Germany surrendered in May nineteen-forty-five. That ended the war in Europe. Japan surrendered in August of that year.

Armistice Day in nineteen-forty-five was a very special day in the United States. Most of the men and women who had served in the war were home. So, instead of just honoring veterans of World War One, Americans also honored veterans of World War Two.

In nineteen-fifty-four, Congress decided to change the name of Armistice Day. The holiday became Veterans Day. By then almost six-million more Americans had served in another war -- the Korean War.

Paulette Geer lives in Rockville, Maryland. She was a young Army nurse during the Korean War. She worked at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC. The hospital served as a main treatment center for wounded soldiers. She helped care for men with terrible injuries.

At one point, Paulette Geer was told of a plan for nurses to parachute into Korea. An airplane would drop them behind enemy lines to establish a battlefield hospital. She and other nurses offered to take part. But that flight never took place. Mizz Geer says that is probably why she is alive today to tell about it.

The Korean War ended in nineteen-fifty-three. In the years to follow, almost nine-million Americans served in the military during the Vietnam War. That was the last time the United States held a draft. Since nineteen-seventy-three, no one has been required to join the military.

Many Americans today grew up with stories of family members who fought in Vietnam, or Korea or the battlefields of World War Two. Future stories will tell about places like Iraq and Afghanistan. But this November eleventh, as the nation honors its veterans, many Americans are thinking about family members still at war far from home.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson. Our producer was Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.