Maybe it’s the placement on the calendar between two holiday juggernauts, but there’s one annual celebration that is easy to forget, unless you are one of the millions of people for whom it was named.
Veterans Day began on November 11, 1918, as Armistice Day to commemorate the official end of the Great War. We now call it World War I, but, at the time, it must have seemed like something so bloody, terrible and costly could never happen again. That thought was embedded in the longer version of its name: “The War to End All Wars.”
It’s such a hopeful and inaccurate title, but I don’t think people were naïve back then and I sure pray they aren’t now. Focusing the holiday on the veterans who have served in all our wars — hot, cold, swift or protracted — rather than on a specific armistice was a wise way to make sure that this day wouldn’t disappear into a historical memory hole. And the recognition of Veterans Day is a good way to support the brave souls who currently serve, and who will be the first to face any new conflicts that might ignite in our global tinderbox.
Situating the holiday after Halloween — our peculiar national celebration of horror and death (OK, and candy) — and before Thanksgiving — our official salute to the blessings of home — seems weirdly appropriate. During war, a well-trained and -equipped military is all that keeps its horror away from the homeland. Sadly, the horrors of war often return home anyway, in the damaged bodies and afflicted memories of our soldiers.
Thankfully, there are people who are helping to keep Veterans Day as a living event, not merely a parade of figures in uniforms of the past.
Child psychologist and Hollis resident Laura Landerman-Garber took a cue from an old magazine story she found that encouraged sending cards with a handwritten note to military members stationed away from home. She got her family and friends involved, using Veterans Day as a focal point to get the cards out in time for the holiday season. They had hit their annual stride when a family friend joined the Navy and they decided to collect cards for him and his shipmates. “We had no idea there were 5,000 sailors on that aircraft carrier,” says Landerman-Garber, “and 5,000 more on its support ships.”
She knew this would require a lot of scaling up of the kitchen-table project, but that year they collected and mailed 17,000. The next year the number jumped to 50,000 and last year 175,000. Their efforts have been celebrated in national media, and Sen. Maggie Hassan read a tribute to Landerman-Garber’s work into the Congressional Record. Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen have since tapped her to create a year-round card program for vets who currently reside in VA hospitals.
The impact of the project is illustrated by the touching, often heartrending responses she’s received from soldiers over the years, but also by the reactions of those who participate. She cites one card from a local 8-year-old from Hollis named Ashley that reads, “Dear Warrior, I am very lonely, but when someone loves me I feel better. How about I love you?”
“And there’s the card that arrived from “someone way up north,” says Landerman-Garber. “It had a dollar in it and a note that said, ‘It’s not much but it may help.’ That’s so New Hampshire,” she says.
With many schools working remotely now, she expects output to drop this year, but anyone wanting to help can learn more at militaryholidaycardchallenge.com and send cards to her at PO Box 103, Hollis, NH 03049.