It was originally proclaimed "Armistice Day" because there weren't going to be any more wars and, therefore, no more veterans. That armistice occurred when the guns fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The year was 1918. The war was World War I.
But things didn't work out as planned. Just 21 years after that armistice, Germany invaded Poland and the world entered a conflict that would make all others shrink before and after it.
Veterans Day 2004 found this nation involved in another conflict in another land for another generation.
Another inverted rifle, with attached bayonet, was being inserted into the soil. A helmet was being placed on top of the upended butt and empty boots were positioned in front. Dog tags no longer hung around the soldier's neck. He wouldn't be needing them anymore. His march was over.
This fact of what Veterans Day really means was brought home to those gathered at the Alexandria Black History Museum on Nov. 11. There on the stage was the rifle, the helmet and the boots, a symbol of "The Fallen Soldier."
But, this memorial was not just placed there as a Veterans Day program prop. It was in tribute to Sgt. DeForest L. Talbert, United States Army. An Alexandria native and graduate of T.C. Williams High School, Talbert was killed in action July 27, 2004 in Iraq.
"These ceremonies are usually done in a battle area. Sgt. Talbert was a soldier, father, son, leader and Alexandrian. May he rest in God's peace," said Brigadier General Vincent Brooks who stood at attention saluting the memorial as Taps was played.
Talbert was a member of the West Virginia National Guard. An explosive devise detonated near his vehicle wounding several of his comrades and killing him.
As with the battlefield ceremony the death is marked by the last roll call. Prior to Taps, the names of others traveling with Talbert that day were called in "the last roll call." As each name rang out a "here" resounded until the name "Talbert." Only silence followed.
Brooks is one of three U.S. Army generals from the same Alexandria family. He was joined at the museum last Thursday by his father Gen. Leo Brooks, Sr., (Ret.). His brother Gen. Leo Brooks, Jr., is also stationed at The Pentagon as is Gen. Vincent Brooks.
The primary speaker at the 90-minute observance was Brigadier General Velma L. Richardson, USA, (Ret.). Richardson is only one of six African American women ever to reach the rank of Brigadier General in the Army, according to Colonel Ethel S. Underwood, USAFR, (Ret.), who introduced her.
"Our soldiers and Marines are engaged in battle in Iraq today. This is the day we honor them and those from past battles. In serving America our fighting forces sweat and bleed for these United States," Richardson said.
IN REFLECTING on the sacrifices of past soldiers, Richardson said, "They were all young. They came from throughout the nation. From the plains of Texas, the peanut farms of Georgia, and the cities. Many were only 16 years old and lied about their age in order to be able to serve."
"The second World War was a holocaust in world history. Some 72 million plus died. America mustered 16 million troops. Four hundred thousand of those died."
Reflecting on the present conflict in the Middle East, "Today we continue to ask our young men and women to give their all. As I look out across this audience I see many veterans. The citizens of Alexandria have much to be proud of. They have given their sons and daughters from World War I and II to Korea, to Vietnam and Bosnia and now Iraq," she said.
"Many have memories so horrific they can not forget. Look at all the veterans and say we remember and we are grateful. We can never repay that debt, but we try. On this day, let us simply repeat what is inscribed on those World War II medals, "A grateful nation remembers," Richardson said.
FOLLOWING HER REMARKS, the Rev. Elbert Ransom, Jr., D. Min. Religious Affairs, NAACP, offered a prayer to "remember others who have been killed and wounded in Iraq. He urged the overflow crowd, packed into the museum at 902 Wythe St., "Pray for those that have fallen in battle. They fell so that we can remain a free people."
With that, Underwood presented Gloria Talbert, mother of Sgt. Talbert with a bouquet of roses in remembrance of her son.
Musical selections during the program were presented by Johnny F. Brown, deacon, A.S.B.C., member, Young and Adult Choir. The first selection entitled "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was written by black poet and civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900.
According to the program, "It was originally intended for use in a program given by a group of Jacksonville, Fla., school children to celebrate Lincoln's birthday. In as much as its words tend to convey a sense of birthright and heritage, it is often referred to as the "Negro National Anthem."
Moderator for the program was Carlton A. Funn, Sr., president, The Society for the Preservation of Black Heritage, Inc., which joined the museum as a cosponsor of the event along with the Alexandria Branch, NAACP; American Legion Post 129; and Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery.
Other participants included Irvin Dixon, director, Veterans Affairs, and Primrose Franklin, chaplain, IBPOE of W. Alexandria Lodge 48; S. Howard Woodson, III, president, Alexandria Branch, NAACP; Lillie Finklea, Freedmen's Cemetery; and Louis Hicks, director, Alexandria Black History Museum. Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille underwrote the cost of refreshments.