Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day in 2020

This Remembrance Day is unlike any other one.

Normally, on Remembrance Sunday we see hundreds of Veterans parade down Whitehall in London. They lay wreaths by the Cenotaph, in honour of their fallen comrades. Due to the current Covid restrictions and lockdown measures, that obviously did not happen this time around.

Throughout the world, Remembrance Day services were held on a vastly reduced scale. Many of the services were forced into a digital version. Online participation in the commemorations is currently the only option to ensure social distance.

Remembrance Day stone and wreaths

Heading for a perfect storm?

Are we heading for a perfect storm of sorts where WW2 remembrance and the history of the Nisei soldiers is concerned? Current events seem to provide a triple whammy which may act as a significant disruptor to how we experience remembrance.

First of all, we are losing our veterans at a pretty high rate now. With them, the direct link to the events of the past and access to living history disappears as well.

Secondly, the pandemic has interrupted travel on a grand scale. Not only localised travel to commemorative services, but more importantly pilgrimage type travel to actual battle areas.  It will take time for the latter to rebound, both in terms of health and safety concerns as well as financial implications following the economic downturn.

And lastly, the passing of time itself. Following generations are ever further removed from the events as they occurred and the consequences they created.

Remembrance Day ready for rebranding

So, does that mean that we are nearing the end of Remembrance Day? Not necessarily. Judging by how well-received and attended virtual events are, there seems to be a fair amount of mileage in them.

It would be a mistake to pretend Remembrance Day – or Veterans Day as it’s known in the USA – hasn’t changed already over time.

Originally, the 11th of November was designated as Armistice Day. It saw its inception on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The moment the guns fell silent along the Western Front, signalling the end of the First World War. At the end of the Second World War, Armistice Day became Remembrance Day. By 1954 the USA declared it Veterans day, to include all Veterans who served.

What does the future hold?

The answer to that question depends on how we manage to keep it relevant for younger generations.

They do have the advantage of being more at home in a digital environment than those that went before them, so they very well may make the “new” way of remembrance their own.

A poll among British school children suggests they still feel it is important to remember past conflicts and the men and women who fought in them.

School children living near American and Commonwealth cemeteries in Europe often adopt a grave to care for throughout the year.

I was very fortunate, not only to have known Lawson Sakai (2nd Bn, E Co), but to have been present last year during his trip back to France. The welcome and veneration he received in the towns liberated by the 442nd illustrated the lasting impact.

The older towns folk of course have their personal memories of life during the war. They also remember the toll it took on their liberators to expel the occupiers. Like my own parents, they undoubtedly passed those experiences and stories on to their children. But it doesn’t stop there: scores of schoolchildren over several generations are taught about the World War II and the roll the Nisei soldiers played in the history of their town.

You can see for yourself why Lawson received such a hero’s welcome in France in David Ono’s reportage. It is unlikely any other Nisei Veteran will be able to make the trip to France or Italy again and be celebrated in person.

One thing does seem fairly certain though: regardless what form Veterans Day or Remembrance Day takes post-Covid, the gratitude in affected towns across Europe seems set to remain unfaltering for a long time to come yet.

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