On Sunday, November 11, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I was commemorated with services and acts of remembrance around the world. The community of Boston College also gathered together for a Mass and prayer service to honor veteran alumni.
After four years of fighting, World War I ended on November 11, 1918 on “the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.” Initially, the day was a celebration of the end of the “Great War,” but quickly it became a day of remembrance for all the lives lost. In 1919, President Woodrow officially recognized it as Armistice Day. The world honors those who had fought for “the Liberty of the world” with moments of silence during the eleventh hour and by wearing red poppies, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae. In 1954, November 11th was renamed as Veterans Day by President Dwight D. Eisenhower upon the return of veterans from World War II and the Korean War.
To celebrate the heroism and honor the memory of our veterans, the 100th anniversary was cause for special commemoration, particularly at the U.S. National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. For the week leading up to Veterans Day, the museum hosted prayer services, special exhibits pertaining to the life of service men and women 100 years ago, research stations for visitors to explore their ancestors’ roles, crafts involving poppies, and even presentations of donated vehicles to injured veterans. The week culminated in a “Walk of Honor” and “Bells of Peace” ceremony that involved ringing bells at exactly 11 o’clock on Sunday morning. The museum encouraged people around the country to ring their own bells at the same time, with the collective sound of bells “representing this incredible moment of peace” and remembering that church bells were used in 1918 to spread the news that the war had ended. Cities across the world used the ringing of bells in commemoration services, including London’s powerful procession of 10,000 family members of fallen soldiers retracing the steps of veterans returning to the city while thousands of churches tolled their bells one hundred times. More locally, bridges across New England, including Boston’s own Zakim bridge, were illuminated with red, white, and blue lights at night.
On the campus of Boston College, Veterans Day was celebrated on the morning of Friday, November 9, with Mass in St. Mary’s Hall followed by a prayer service on the Burns Lawn. Celebrated by Fr. Robert L. Leane, S.J., and other Jesuits who served in the military, Mass was “a beautifully intimate experience,” stated junior Elizabeth Roehm, a member of the Liturgy Arts Group (LAG) who provided music for both services. At the beginning of the liturgy, a BC alumni veteran processed in with a book of names of alumni who lost their lives in service. These men and women were the primary intentions for whom the Mass was offered. The congregation was composed of mostly BC alumni veterans, their families, and current BC Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) students.
After Mass, students and alumni moved to the Burns Lawn for a prayer service to remember the fallen veterans of BC. ROTC students read the names of each of the deceased, based off of the quote “They say you die twice, once when you stop breathing and once when someone mentions your name for the last time.” Keeping the memory of these BC alumni present for another year, after reading each name, the ROTC students announced each war and then prayerfully posed the question, “Who will stand up to honor the fallen BC alumni?” One of the BC alumni veterans in attendance then stood to say that they will stand up for those fallen alumni from that particular war, then lit a candle and saluted it. After closing out the ceremony in song, Roehm reflected, “It was truly a humbling experience to celebrate with the veterans at Mass and at Burns Lawn. These men and women truly embody what it means to be a man and woman for others. They provide a new perspective on the universal call to being a man or woman for others at BC.”