Veterans Day means even more in a small county where veterans are our neighbors, friends and family.
We run into them in the grocery store, at the post office or walking on the beach. We remember the veterans who have passed as well. Our cemeteries will be marked with flowers and flags honoring them.
The origins of Veterans Day began with the Great War, also known as World War I. The conflict left such a mark on the hearts and minds of Americans that in 1919 President Woodrow Wilson declared Nov. 11 Armistice Day. Celebrations were marked by parades, public gatherings and a pause in school and business dealings at 11 a.m., the exact time the war came to an end.
Nine islanders were lost during World War I. To put that number in perspective, three percent of the soldiers from Washington state who fought in that war died. In San Juan County, that percentage was more than twice that.
Never wanting to forget family, friends or neighbors, San Juan County became the first to create a memorial to veterans in Washington state. A large crowd gathered on Nov. 11, 1921 for the unveiling of Memorial Park, located at the base of Spring Street in Friday Harbor. Attendees listened to speeches, music and remembered those they lost.
The following is from the Nov. 17, 1921 issue of The Journal of the San Juans:
“The Armistice Day exercises held in Friday Harbor, Friday afternoon were a huge success under the direction of Hackett-Larson Post American Legion. The main feature of the occasion was the unveiling of the memorial monument in the little park at the foot of Spring Street in honor of the county’s soldiers dead in the late war. A notable fact is that this monument is the first … in the State of Washington.”
The World War I veterans who returned to their island homes continued work in public service. Many served on the county council and became prosecutors, leaders and visionaries. Some are remembered by streets named after them throughout the town of Friday Harbor, including Larson, Harrison, Tucker and Franck.
Congress passed a resolution on June 4, 1926, commemorating Armistice Day with Thanksgiving, prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through goodwill and mutual understanding between nations. The resolution also stated that the president of the United States should issue an annual proclamation calling for the observance of Armistice Day. In 1938 the day was declared a federal holiday.
Those exercises for peace, as we know, were sadly in vain. The world erupted into World War II in 1939. Once again islanders signed up to serve their country. After the Korean War in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day to recognize and honor veterans of all wars.
According to the Census Bureau, approximately 10 percent of San Juan County’s population are veterans. In our little community, that means chances are each of us knows someone who risked their life serving their country. You can believe that sacrifice took its toll mentally and physically. This Veterans Day, let’s all take a moment to say thank you.