Craig Wilson, president of the Juneau chapter of Veterans for Peace, stands in front of the bell at the Alaska State Capitol as Juneau residents prepare to ring it in honor of Armistice Day, as Veterans Day was previously known on Nov. 11, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Craig Wilson, president of the Juneau chapter of Veterans for Peace, stands in front of the bell at the Alaska State Capitol as Juneau residents prepare to ring it in honor of Armistice Day, as Veterans Day was previously known on Nov. 11, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Group commemorates Armistice Day, embraces peace

They decry the spectacle they say Veterans Day has become.

The local chapter of Veterans for Peace recognized Armistice Day by gathering and ringing the bell at the Alaska State Capitol downtown.

“It should be a solemn occasion to remember veterans who fought and died and to consecrate peace,” said chapter President Craig Wilson. “We feel that the best way to recognize them is to celebrate peace.”

About two dozen people attended the event, as Wilson told a local Boy Scout troop the history of Armistice Day before attendees lined up to ring the bell. In a speech written by Wilson but not delivered in deference to foul weather, Wilson decries the transition from Armistice Day, celebrating peace, to Veterans Day, celebrating war.

“Instead of remembering the sacrifices of veterans, we offer them free coffee and 20% off dinner coupons while promoting the latest military hardware,” Wilson stated in his speech. “Unfortunately, today has become an annual exploitation of veterans who fought in state-sanctioned violence in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Domincan Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Kosovo, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the list goes on and on.”

[Group seeks to improve support for women veterans in Alaska]

The armistice ending WWI was signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Bells were rung across the world to celebrate the end of a brutal war that killed soldiers and civilians in the tens of millions. Wilson said that he felt the best way to honor veterans was with peace and the old tradition of bell-ringing.

“This was originally Armistice Day. That’s how it was set up in Congress in 1926,” Wilson said. “This is what we did when I grew up. This was the traditional response.”

Armistice Day was redesignated Veterans Day by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954. In every other Commonwealth country that commemorates the end of WWI, it’s known as Remembrance Day, and is traditionally associated with poppies, long a symbol of the war.

“Rebranding Armistice Day as Veterans Day has led to a change from celebrating peace to celebrating the military and glorifying war,” Wilson said in an email. “Armistice Day has been flipped from a day for peace into a day for displays of militarism.”

Paul DeSloover, another member of the local VFP chapter, said that they’d been holding a bell ringing ceremony for about 7-8 years.

“We wanted a ceremony that commemorated Armistice Day,” DeSloover said. “It was about peace on Earth.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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