In France, November 11th is not known as Veterans Day as it is in the U.S. The change of name to Veterans Day in America came in 1954. In Europe it is still known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. It commemorates the signing of the cessation of the hostilities on the Western Front between the Allies of WWI and Germany. Here in France, and we see it often in Grenoble, there is a constant reminder of the tragedy of war and what the citizens endured as a result of war. Street names honoring the heroes of the wars, especially World War II, are commonplace. On the sides of some buildings there are plaques marking the spots where the resisting population died at the hands of the opposing forces. On so many streets there is a history lesson waiting to be learned and/or remembered.
As an American, I am ashamed to say I really didn’t understand what Armistice Day – the eleventh hour, eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918- meant. Our American fathers, grandfathers or now great-grandfathers fought in WWI, the War to End all Wars, in Europe, but, except for those families that lost loved-ones, the home-side citizens were comparatively untouched by the devastating ravages of that war. Not so in Europe, especially France.
We were not sure exactly how this day would be memorialized. L’Escatade, the local outdoor market under the railroad tracks that we frequent, was in progress. Shoppers were around, but as I made my way to shop in the morning, the shops on cours Jean Jaurès were mostly closed. The tram was running, as well as the buses. A major shopping center here advertised that they would be open. The French people who I asked about this shook their heads in disgust. Whereas in the U.S., Veterans Day sales are commonplace, here in France this day is not a vehicle for commercialism; there are no sales advertised. It is truly a time of honoring those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for freedom to their country in the First World War with the laying of wreaths by public figures and a solemn mood.
We saw a few signs of wreath-layings upon the sides of a couple of buildings, but not any military parades. Passing by a cemetery, there seemed to be freshly placed flowers and signs of grave-tending. On several TV stations there were documentaries shown and insightful commentaries. This is the French way. Quiet and respectful remembrance of those who fought for their freedom in the wars that were endured here in the 1910’s and the 1940’s.