It was the war to end all wars.
On June 28, 1914, a Serbian Yugoslavian nationalist assassinated Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. One month later, Austria-Hungary began shelling the Serbian capital of Belgrade. By Aug. 2 of that year, almost the entirety of Europe was engulfed in war.
The conflict was known by many different names. The Seminal Catastrophe. The Great War. Here in the U.S., it was first called the European War. That changed as the Ottoman Empire, Japan, Bulgaria, Greece and eventually even the United States were drawn into the conflict.
The human cost was staggering. At a time when the world population numbered only 1.7 billion, more than 70 million soldiers were mobilized. Approximately 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians were direct casualties of the war. It's estimated between 50 million-100 million people died in 1918 from the influenza pandemic, believed to have been spread by troop movements over the previous year.
Eventually, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the First World War ended on what became known as Armistice Day. It did not, unfortunately, end all wars, but it did have far reaching implications for world history. Russians overthrew their Tsarist government during the war and formed the Soviet Socialist Republic. The Treaty of Versailles imposed harsh economic sanctions upon the defeated nation of Germany and would eventually lead to the rise of Nazism and, ironically, the Second World War.
But in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, the allied nations, including our own, celebrated. On Nov. 11, 1919, one year after the cessation of hostilities, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation urging Americans on Armistice Day to "be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations." Initially, Armistice Day was informally observed to honor the veterans of World War I.
On June 4, 1926, the U.S. Congress adopted a resolution calling on then President Calvin Coolidge to issue annual proclamations calling for the observance of Nov. 11 with appropriate ceremonies. In 1938, Congress made Nov. 11 a national holiday, known formally as Armistice Day, to remember WWI veterans and to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.
In 1954, after urging from groups of World War II veterans, Congress established Nov. 11 as a national holiday to honor all veterans and amended the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Since that time, we've observed Veterans Day, honoring all soldiers and military personnel from all wars and all branches of service.
Though we come together every year to say thank you to our veterans, there are still soldiers that haven't gotten the honor they deserve. More than 55,000 U.S. soldiers are still listed on the P.O.W.-M.I.A. list and are waiting for that honor. Their families and loved ones are waiting for closure.
In the upcoming session, I'll be introducing a resolution that we began working on last year, calling on Congress to pass the Bring Our Heroes Home Act. That bill would allow for greater transparency and declassification of P.O.W-M.I.A. records. The goal is for every missing veteran to be accounted for.
All our veterans deserve to be honored, and I sincerely hope this will eventually provide closure to those who still don't know what happened to the missing soldiers they once knew. Thank you to all those who served this country and to all those who still protect us every day.
State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, represents Missouri's 6th District, and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.