The true meaning behind Nov. 11


For a lot of people Veterans Day is just another day off to take the kids for dessert or have a barbecue. For myself it is a day when I silently pay respect to all men and women in uniform regardless of their country of origin, race or religion. Wars have a price and it is not in money, it is in human life.

During World War I my grandfather, who I called “Pape,” was a gunner during the entire Battle of Verdun. Some 3,200 soldiers died daily fighting over a strip of land for nine months and 20 days non-stop that included bombing from either side. One third of the soldiers engaged were never found and still rest there. 

Pape never talked about his service nor displayed his medals on his white uniform. They remained hidden in a closet for decades.

He never made friends either, as he knew that these smiling, energetic soldiers fresh from training camp could be dead by sundown. He did not need to, as every Nov. 11 we stood — in rain or snow — immobile and silent, listening to the call of each soldier’s name. Roughly 25 percent of the able men in my hometown in France never came back from the front.

There we stood, silent alongside men with wooden legs, patches on their eyes or funny scarfs around their necks — forever silent as their throats were burned by gas. Some had lost their reason.

Pape served for you and Veterans Day reminds us of all the soldiers who gave all for their countries in the name of freedom.

Little did my grandfather know, 20 years later, darkness would cover the country again. 
Veterans Day is for my father who spent four years harassing France’s invaders, smuggling and feeding people — with three different death warrants on his head. Veterans Day is for my mom who carried plastic explosives under her skirt right under the Gestapo’s noses.

To me, this is the meaning of Nov. 11. It does apply here in the United States, to all the soldiers sent to war. They should all be honored for their sacrifice for this country. Behind every soldier there is also a family.


Joel Rambaud