Henry Gunther is a name unfamiliar to most of us. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1895, a grandson of German immigrants. Sergeant Gunther served in the 313th Regiment where he was part of the American Expeditionary Force. In the midst of a battle in the Lorraine region of France, he was killed in action at 10:59 a.m. on November 11, 1918. Significantly, the armistice, bringing an end to hostilities, was signed in Campeiegne, France, one minute later. German soldiers, who were aware that the armistice would take effect at 11:00, tried to wave Henry off, but he kept running toward them, his gun ablaze. The Army posthumously awarded him a Citation for Gallantry in Action and the Distinguished Service Cross. In 1923 his remains were exhumed from a military cemetery in France and placed in the Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Baltimore. Henry Gunther was the last American killed in World War I.
Veterans Day, observed annually on November 11, began as Armistice Day – celebrating the ceasefire, which brought an end to that war’s hostilities. That agreement was signed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The formal peace agreement signed later is known as the Treaty of Versailles.
On the same day one year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.” On that day, soldiers who survived the war marched in parades and were honored by ceremonies recognizing their contribution. Years later, in 1954, Congress changed the word “Armistice” to “Veterans.” So, November 11 became a day to honor all American veterans, wherever and whenever they had served.
In 2016 the Census Bureau reported there were 18.6 million American veterans, 5.6 million of them having served since the first Gulf War. All Americans should regularly be thankful and express appreciation to our veterans. But on Veteran’s Day, we should honor them in special ways. So, what can we do to honor those who have served our country? According to the Military.com website, we can:
- First – Show Up. Attend a Veteran’s Day event in your area.
- Second – Raise a Flag. Remind others that this is a day to honor all who have served.
- Third – Donate. There are many organizations dedicated to helping veterans. An average of one in five veterans since the first Gulf War suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and need extra attention.
- Fourth – Contact. Get to know a veteran in your church or neighborhood. Ask about his or her service. Write a veteran, offering words of appreciation and encouragement. Thank them for their service.
- Fifth – Pray. Ask God to bless our veterans and active duty military personnel and their families. Freedom is fragile—Handle with prayer.
Because of the sacrifice of our veterans, we enjoy tremendous freedom as citizens of the United States. But our liberty has been bought by blood and sacrifice. Patrick Henry, expressed the sentiments of many brave American heroes, when, on March 23, 1775, he said: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” We must never forget the cost of our freedom, or fail to appreciate those who have paid it.
On Veteran’s Day in America, we celebrate the courage and sacrifice of our military veterans. We thank our living veterans and remember the fallen ones. We thank God for the brave who have fought, and continue to stand, so courageously, for our nation. We are thankful for the freedom their sacrifice has secured for us. We are free to worship; free to pray; free to speak; free to live in peace every day; because of their devotion and continual diligence.
This day also reminds us to thank our Heavenly Father for His great sacrifice by sending His one and only Son, to seek and save those who are lost in sin. The worst bondage is spiritual, not physical—likewise the greatest freedom is spiritual, not physical, as great as that is. Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Jesus died in our place to take away our sins. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). He said: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). We must never take His sacrifice for granted. In the future, we will celebrate this victory Jesus achieved on our behalf, “when this perishable and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). And that life God gives, through Christ, will last forever!
So, raise Old Glory up the flagpole, thank God for salvation and the freedoms we enjoy, and pray for the veterans who have served our nation, and for those who daily put themselves in harm’s way for our sakes.