In a quiet ceremony on the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Thursday, the Juneau chapter of Veterans for Peace held its annual bell ringing in remembrance of all those who died in war and to call for global peace.
Speaking to a small crowd, VFP Chapter President Craig Wilson, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, said it was important to remember that Nov. 11 was originally celebrated as Armistice Day — the end of World War I — to remember the cost of war.
“The previous four years of war had killed 10 million soldiers and 2 million civilians, and wounded another 22 million,” Wilson told the crowd. “Armistice Day was established as a legal U.S. holiday in 1926, ‘to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.’”
The holiday was changed in 1954 to be more inclusive of veterans from World War II and the Korean War, Wilson said, but even then President Dwight Eisenhower urged Americans to work for peace.
In the first Veterans Day proclamation, Eisenhower said Americans should remember the lives lost and “reconstitute ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
As a national organization, VFP advocates to change the name of the Nov. 11 holiday back to Armistice Day in the United States. Most nations in Europe celebrate Nov. 11 as Armistice Day. Wilson said that the way Veterans Day is currently celebrated in the U.S. glorifies military might and war, and he wanted to move away from “just giving vets a free beer.”
“The best way to honor vets is to celebrate peace,” Wilson said. “If you want to support veterans, don’t send them to war.”
The group led a singing of “A Song for Peace: A Patriotic Song,” which calls for world peace, before ringing the replica of the Liberty Bell in front of the Capitol building. Veterans, adults and children all took turns striking the bell with a wooden hammer.
In the crowd were local members of Scouts BSA — formerly the Boy Scouts of America — and students from Juneau Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. Issac Judy, 14, said he was moved by how quiet the ceremony was.
“Peace can change a lot of things,” Judy said. “War kills lots of people but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Fellow scout Ferguson Wheeler, 14, said it was nice to see so many people turn out in the cold and wind to remember something that happened more than 100 years ago.
“It’s kinda crazy how much (WWI) mattered,” Wheeler said. “It’s kinda wild to think about how we’re still feeling it.”
U.S. Coast Guard veteran Jim Wilcox Sr. said he had spent his entire enlistment in the Juneau area aboard the USCG cutter Sweetbrier and was at the bell ringing because he was a veteran.
“It’s the only reason,” he said.