It’s an odd little number: eleven. It’s odd in the way it looks and even when one attempts to say it: eleven. Mathematically, it’s an odd number as well: eleven. It’s never particularly been one of my favorite numbers.
Yet its three-fold significance today is known and felt around the world: “On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour.”
Anyone who knows their history understands this phrase. The year was 1918, and that month, date, and hour was when the “War to End All Wars” officially ended.¹
That war, known as “the Great War” at the time, would eventually become known as World War I. The war, unfortunately, didn’t end all wars even though it was one of the most costly wars in history. Over nine million troops were killed, 21 million more were wounded, and some ten million civilians also died as a result of the war.¹
But why does the number eleven appear in all of this? It seems that by the month of November in 1918, the Germans had finally “had enough” and signed a cease-fire a little after 5:00 a.m. on the morning of November 11th that year. It was decided that the official treaty would go into effect six hours later, when it would be 11:00 a.m. in France, where the cease-fire was signed.² From that point forward, that date, time, and hour emerged as an historic phrase.
To celebrate the end of the Great War, the United States observed it as Armistice Day beginning in 1919, but ultimately changed it to Veterans Day in 1954 in order to honor all veterans.³ This important day is also observed in many countries around the world in some form or another.
I’m very proud to have had a grandfather and two grand uncles who served in WWI and am extremely thankful that they survived this ordeal. My grand uncle, Emile Frances Sanford (1898 – 1972), served in Company I of the 28th Infantry and was slightly wounded on July 31, 1918. (See photo.) According to my grandmother, his wife and his children, he was cited for bravery for carrying messages continually over ‘no-man’s land’ during the battle of Cantigny in May of 1918.
Another grand uncle, James Alonzo “Lonnie” Sanford (1902 – 1957), followed his older brother into the military, lying about his age in order to serve. I remember my Grandmother telling me that story and how he was reported as missing in action and presumed dead. He miraculously came home at the end of the war without any notification to the family whatsoever!
My grandfather, Baxter H. Wallace (1895 - 1958) served in Company H of the 101st in the United States Army. One of my uncles told me that he was gassed at Verdun and sent home. Since my Mother was born in January of 1919, I’m extremely happy that he made it home before the number eleven played its part in the end of that war.
The number eleven was lucky for all three of them. They survived. So many others didn’t, and we remember them and so many others who lost their lives during warfare on Memorial Day each year.
Veterans Day is meant to honor all who served, and my heartfelt thanks go out to each of you.
I think I’m beginning to like that little number: eleven. It rolls easily off my tongue now: eleven. Mathematically, it’s still an odd number: eleven.
¹ HISTORY.com. This Day in History. “Nov. 11, 1918: World War I Ends.” http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/world-war-i-comes-to-an-end
² Gaylord, Chris. The Christian Science Monitor. “Veterans Day: Why America chose November 11.” Nov. 11, 2011.
³ The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs - The Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs: “History of Veterans Day.” http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp
@2014 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland