11 a.m. on 11/11

The water fountain on the edge of the play area next to our elementary school was shaped like an upright piano made of concrete. Its ”keyboard” was home to four fixtures from which trickled cool refreshing water. In fact, the fountain in the yard at Baltimore’s public school #51, Waverly School, was a memorial placed there to honor to American troops who had died in World War I.

I drank from that fountain many times In my 1940s childhood, as did many generations of kids before and after my time. During my time there, the memorial fountain served as centerpiece on Armistice Day, which children and teachers marked with pageantry and music programs that began precisely at 11 a.m. on November 11. The programs ended with someone playing “Taps” solemnly on a bugle. I took part in several of these events.

We can trace to 1918 these observances that were organized to commemorate the armistice signed by the Allies and Germans, marking the end of World War I.  A formal agreement was reached the following year when the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a proclamation in 1954 designating November 11 as Veterans Day, amending the name to honor veterans of World War II and Korea. Since then, Americans know the occasion by that name.

Our father was too old, and I was too young to join the military in World War II. Pearl Harbor was bombed when I was 7. VE and VJ, Days, marking victory in Europe and in Japan, came in 1945, when I was 11. My late older brother Jack served in the Army just after that war, stationed for much of the time in Okinawa. Late cousin Richard Stewart joined the Navy and served on a mine sweeper in the Pacific, dangerous duty. He saw plenty of fighting but returned home safely. Numerous families in our neighborhood had sons and husbands serving in the armed forces during those years. Only one, that I know of, lost his life in World War II action.

My memories of those days remain strong, and every year on this day, I pause to remember and utter a prayer of thanks for those, living and dead, who served.

That water fountain is gone now. A long time ago, Baltimore city officials tore down the beautiful, granite school structure and replaced it a block away with another building that looked like every other elementary school in the city. Hard to forgive that.

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