When I was young, my mind was consumed with wishful thinking. Searching for four-leaf clovers in gardens and shooting stars in the night sky, finding shiny pennies and flipping them in Friendship Fountain, blowing out dandelions and birthday candles. It was a lot of work to make a wish, so I never failed to notice whenever the clock struck 11:11.
The collective compulsion to wish upon the paired elevens was galvanized by social media. Snapchat and Instagram stories were collages of reverent screenshots with the time reading 11:11, the “angel” number, the cosmically agreed-upon time to wish for anything.
Now, I notice the number every year on my calendar. On 11/11, we celebrate Veterans Day.
Veterans Day commemorates the service and sacrifice of all veterans (Memorial Day honors those who have explicitly died serving their country). Veterans Day shares 11/11 with Armistice Day, when in 1918, hostilities ceased on the Western Front of World War I on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month."
That’s a lot of elevens.
It's hard to be wishful on a day of such somber remembrance. It is impossible to imagine what life was like in the muddy, bloody trenches, where rolling artillery thundered and shook the ground incessantly. World War I was thought to be “the war to end all wars.” Perhaps it was wished to be.
Memorial Park in Jacksonville commemorates the “Florida Fallen,” 1,700 men and women from Florida who died serving in World War I. The monument was constructed in 1924 (the park is celebrating its centennial next year) and was attended by Florida veterans from the American Expeditionary Forces. I wonder if they flipped a penny in the fountain as they passed. I wonder what they wished for.
Veterans from World War I returned home without healthcare, financial or educational benefits (the GI Bill would not be authored until the next world war). During the Great Depression, veterans from World War I marched in protest to Washington, D.C., due to postponed payments of their bonuses. The protestors – over 17,000 veterans – were shot at and forcibly removed from their shanty shelters in the capital.
Today, there are substantially more resources and support for our returning veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the number of veterans experiencing homelessness has been halved – from 74,087 in 2010 to 37,252 in 2020. The Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit that has offered mental health, career counseling and long-term rehabilitative care for 20 years.
Still, according to the VA, there were 6,146 Veteran suicide deaths in 2020.
This Veterans Day, I wish all veterans and their families solace in this life and what comes after.