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By Jen Horton
posted Nov 14, 2012 - 10:56:53am
Nov. 11 is a day to honor the nation’s veterans. But it wasn’t always.
From 1938 to 1954, Nov. 11 was called Armistice Day. It marked the day World War I ended in 1918, and it became a national holiday in the pure hope that there would never again be a worldwide conflict.
Author Kurt Vonnegut wrote of that moment when the battlefields fell silent in 1918, as men stopped trying to kill one another.
“I have talked to old men who were on the battlefields during that minute,” Vonnegut wrote. “They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God.”
To honor that moment when peace was the loudest silence on the planet, Congress in 1938 declared Nov. 11 Armistice Day. In celebration, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, churches and cities rang bells 11 times as a celebration of peace — the end of battles that had cost millions of lives.
That changed in 1954. By then, there had been a second World War.
Veterans across the country would like to hear the bells of peace ring again.
Phil Restino, a U.S. Army peacetime veteran, heads the Central Florida Chapter of Veterans for Peace. His and other chapters have adopted the mission of changing the focus of Veterans Day back to its original purpose.
Flyovers and gun salutes change the focus from peace to war, he said.
While celebrating the heroes of war isn’t a bad thing, Restino said, the national focus should be on the end of wars, and the bringing about of peace.
In Minnesota, dozens of local churches have signed on to ring bells at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 each year.
The city of Minneapolis declared via proclamation in 2011 that Nov. 11 was Veterans/Armistice Day in the City of Minneapolis “in the hope that some day, instead of spending money on war, our nation will spend money on building better cities for our children to laugh and play and grow.”
The signing of the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, was supposed to be the end of the war to end war.
“This was supposed to be it,” McKeown said.
That message has been lost, he said.
“We don’t have anything against veterans; they need healing,” McKeown said. “We want less war, and we want to make fewer veterans of war. We’re anti-war; we’re not anti-veteran.”
The bell-ringing commitment grew gradually; now 176 Minnesota churches have signed on.
“It seems much more appropriate than a 21-gun salute,” McKeown said.
Members of Chapter 27, when they pass on, have a bell rung 11 times, instead of receiving a 21-gun salute.
The 11 Bells movement is spreading now throughout the United States.
The Central Florida Chapter of Veterans for Peace has been in the area since 2005. Its members include combat veterans from World War II through the Iraq War, as well as peacetime veterans, such as Restino.
“We really need new members,” Restino said.
The group does a weekly anti-war demonstration in Daytona Beach.
Restino has contacted about 100 area churches to ask them to participate in 11 Bells on Nov. 11.
To make a donation to VFP, to participate in 11 Bells, or for more information, call Restino at 386-788-2918 or visit www.cflveteransforpeace.org.
For more information about VFP Minnesota Chapter 27, visit www.vfpchapter27.org.
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