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Numbers Tell Holiday Story

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Certain dates — July 4, 9/11/01, Dec. 25 — are significant and they are given special recognition annually.

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Most Americans recognize the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 as the birthday of our country.

It would be hard to believe there is an adult who does not remember the fall of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center after Middle Eastern Jihadists flew a pair of hi-jacked airliners into them killing nearly 3,000 people.

And the most celebrated day in history (though probably the incorrect date) is in recognition of the birthday of Jesus Christ, called the Savior of the world in the Bible.

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One more significant date comes up this week — 11/11/11. Although it has been celebrated for 102 years, the significance of the date of what now is known as Veteran’s Day is less and less known.

The triple 11 marks the hour, the day, and the month of the ceasefire that ended what was billed as “the war to end all wars” (World War I).

While that 1918 dream has yet to come to pass — this nation has since been involved in at least 14 wars or armed conflicts that have taken nearly half a million civilian and military lives and costing more than $2 trillion — and there no longer are any survivors of that conflict, we, as we should, still honor veterans of all our wars on that date first known as Armistice Day.

But with all the orphans, widows, permanently crippled men and women, crumbled cities and towns, and tattered economies behind those numbers, it is difficult to see the hope in the holiday that President Woodrow Wilson did when he designated the day to “honor with solemn pride” the heroism of those who died in the service of their country and to express “gratitude for the victory.”

Although Wilson, the pious son of a Presbyterian minister, never specifically said to whom the nation should express thanks, it seems reasonable he had in mind Ephesians 5:20 where it advises: “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That was the attitude of President Dwight D. Eisenhower who in 1954 signed the law renaming the holiday Veterans Day honoring veterans of all our wars. The Congress urged that the anniversary “should be commemorated with Thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”

Another staunch Presbyterian who grew up in a faithful Mennonite family, General Eisenhower had been supreme commander of allied troops in Europe during World War II. He said he considered God as a silent ally in war and peace and it was he who led Congress to adopt the words “in God we trust” as our national motto and to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.

So it was not surprising that he would link honoring veterans and faith in this way:

“ …We are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will keep our country’s most powerful resource in peace or war.”

(Adon Taft was religion editor for 37 of his 49 years as a reporter with The Miami Herald. He taught social studies at Miami-Dade Community College. Now retired in Birmingham, AL, he can be reached at [email protected])

Adon Taft
Adon Taft was the religion editor for 37 of his 48 years with The Miami Herald. He taught social studies at Miami-Dade Community College and authored the chapters on religion in the three-volume history of the state, “ Florida from Indian Trail to Space Age,” edited by Dr. Charlton W. Tebeau and Ruby Leach Carson.
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