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Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as "The Great War." Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning the following year, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars.

The year my husband completed a graduate program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, we were young newly weds who felt like we had “arrived”, and we were determined to take advantage of all Harvard had to offer. The first event we attended that year was at the American Repertory Theater. The members of ART were beginning the season with solo performances, and the first was a reading from Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. The reading vividly brought to life Brittain’s haunting prose describing the heartbreaking loss of her fiancee and her best friend, her brother, to the horrific events of the First World War,

“There seemed to be nothing left in the world, for I felt that Roland had taken with him all my future and Edward all my past.”

When the performance was finished, the actress quietly remained on stage as the audience sat in stunned silence, unable to applaud. 

The last event my husband and I attended that same year  was the highly anticipated spring concert dominated by two exciting acapella groups, The Harvard Krokodiloes and The Radcliffe Pitches. The concert was held in Harvard's Sander's Theater, and the house was packed, the energy high, and the music wonderful. These talented student performers were capable of bringing laughter and tears to an audience who wildly cheered and savored each song performed. The Kroks traditionally had each member of the group perform a solo to be backed up by the remaining singers. When a young African American student stepped forward to sing, no one expected the performance to take the turn it did. Sander’s Theater is housed in Harvard’s Memorial Chapel, a huge Victorian building constructed in 1865 to honor Harvard students who fought for the Union in the Civil War. 

As time has passed, more sad memorials have been added to honor Harvard students who have died in all the wars fought since the Union was saved. On this night, the student began to sing the poignant song “Mama Look Sharp” from the musical 1776. 

As he sang, his voice transported both himself and his listeners to another place where the feel of battle, and the terrible peace which lay in its wake, held us all in its power. Once again, after the performance, the house sat in stunned silence. The singer himself seemed to have difficulty regaining his focus, and two members of the group came forward to join him as the crowd broke into thunderous applause. 

Both events still bring tears to my eyes, and both events make me feel that on this day all the veterans of all the wars are very much with us in mind, heart and spirit.