- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 11, 2001

The first Veterans Day, known as Armistice Day, was one of the most solemn and memorable occasions in the history of the United States.
The year was 1921 two years after the armistice signaling the end of World War I, and the scene was Arlington National Cemetery, which had been chosen as the burial site for the nation's Unknown Soldier.
Foreign dignitaries, including Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Aristide Briand, Adm. Lord Beatty, and Arthur J. Balfour, arrived in Washington for the dedication, and 90,000 people viewed the plain black coffin of the unidentified American serviceman as it lay in state in the rotunda of the Capitol on Nov. 10.
America's president, Warren G. Harding, in office only about eight months, delivered the main address at the ceremony on Nov. 11. And although Harding's reputation as chief executive would suffer after his death in 1923 in the midst of a scandal-mired administration, he was a well-received president during his first year in office.
His popular vote majority in 1920 was the largest received to that date, and his first executive order, opening the White House gates to the public, added to his popular acceptance. Harding's frequent public appearances, in contrast to his predecessor, Woodrow Wilson, resulted in large crowds gathering to see and hear him.
A total of 100,000 gathered in Arlington National Cemetery to hear Harding on Nov. 11, not including the many individuals who lined the streets from the Capitol to watch a procession of notables escort the bier to the cemetery. Many in the crowd wore replicas of the red poppy the scarlet flower native to the European battlefields as a proud patriotic gesture that over subsequent years would be identified with the November day of remembrance.
"Never before, perhaps, has there been such a gathering as assembled on the hills of the national cemetery overlooking Washington," read an account of the assemblage.
"While only a small portion who came to do honor to the Unknown could be accommodated within the enclave, the vast multitude … followed the memorial ceremonies by means of the telephone amplifier, which impressively and with wonderful distinctness reproduced the addresses. Not only the many thousands within the cemetery heard every detail … but the nation's message of mourning was carried to distant cities."
Not only were media representatives present in large numbers, but Associated Press reporter Kirke L. Simpson would win a Pulitzer Prize for his account of the ceremonies.
Harding's address, brought to a climax by his call to the audience to join him in reciting the Lord's Prayer, would contain themes that subsequent addresses at Arlington National Cemetery would echo, as illustrated by the opening and final portions of the speech:
"Mr. Secretary of War and Ladies and Gentlemen: We are met today to pay the impersonal tribute … The name of him whose body lies before us took flight with his imperishable soul. We know not whence he came, but only that his death marks him with the everlasting glory of an American dying for his country …
"The loftiest tribute we can bestow today … is the commitment of this republic to an advancement never made before. If American achievement is a cherished pride at home, if our unselfishness among nations is all we wish it to be, and ours is a helpful example in the world, then let us give of our influence and strength, yea, of our aspirations and convictions, to put mankind on a little higher plane, exulting and exalting, with war's distressing and depressing tragedies barred from the stage of righteous civilization."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide