If you live in the UK, November is synonymous with bonfire night and poppies, especially this year given the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1. But what about here in Chicago? How do Americans observe 11.11.11? Did you know that Illinois has a unique connection to World War 1?
I have lived in the Chicago area for three years now and here are the answers to questions I am often asked by other Expats:
Does America Observe Remembrance Day?
Yes. And no.
Actually there are two national holidays in America that honour members of the Armed Forces. 11th November is called Veterans Day and is about honouring those still alive, and Memorial Day (in May) honours those who died whilst serving.
But it’s worth noting that neither occasion has the somber nature of a British Remembrance Day. In fact, both are far more upbeat occasions by comparison. You are less likely to see lowered flags and hear minute silences, and more likely to hear adverts backed by the National Anthem thanking the Armed Forces proudly for their service and offering freebies and special offers to veterans.
Here is a fascinating article on the subject that I recommend you read:
“Why doesn’t the US observe Armistice Day? We’re more comfortable with war than peace”
– Rory Fanning
Does America Observe Remembrance Sunday?
Remembrance Day is marked on whatever day of the week that the 11th November falls on. Official ceremonies are held at 11am on this day only.
Do Americans Hold Wreath Laying Ceremonies on Veterans Day?
There is a national ceremony held at the National Memorial, Arlington Cemetery in Washington including wreath laying at the Tomb of Unknowns.
In Chicago, a ceremony is held at Soldier Field, an apt venue given that it got it’s name in 1925 to honour the fallen.
Other than that, I have found that local wreath laying ceremonies are not often well advertised. Also, outdoor ceremonies on Veterans Day tend to be much shorter than Remembrance Sunday services in the UK. In May however, on Memorial Day, there are LOTS of parades in every town throughout the weekend.
Did America Do Anything Specific to Mark the 100th Year since the Start of WWI?
Not especially. Certainly nothing like the Tower of London Poppies.
Although Veterans Day is held on the day of World War 1 Armistice, it recognise Veterans of all wars. The last WW1 American Veteran died in 2011. Also worth noting that America did not join WW1 until 1917, so I imagine there will be ceremonies in three years time. The USA chose to separate themselves from the traditional meaning of Armistice Day in the 1950s.
I need to draw your attention to Cantigny Park, a special place unique to Illinois.
Cantigny Park is a 500 acre park and set of mansions in Winfield (about an hour west of the city) and is named after the Battle of Cantigny (a town in the Somme) the first battle that American forces were involved in. The parks former owner and media mogul Colonel Robert R. McCormick was a veteran of the battle and chose to turn his estate into a commemoration. It is now an impressive military museum and beautiful public park.
On Veterans Day they light thousands of candles at dusk until 9 p.m (see photo above). Also 6 p.m. and 8 p.m letters from soldiers are read aloud. It is very special and moving.
If you have ever wanted to better understand the First World War and especially America’s role in it, this is the place to visit.
Do Americans wear poppies?
Yes, sort of.
The National American Legion enables veterans to make and sell crepe poppies but most of these are sold in May (see above for why). They look very different from the poppies of the Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland campaigns and are definitely not as prolific a symbol. In fact, you are very unlikely to see politicians or newsreaders wearing one and I doubt they raise as much as$60m / £40m that the UK poppy appeals do.
Does America observe a minute / two minutes silence?
Yes and no. It is not mandated.
Where can I buy a Remembrance Poppy in Chicago?
Online is your best option.
In my experience the veteran sellers who sell the USA versions are few and far between and tend to only appear in May. You could also contact the Illinois Royal British Legion USA representative who based in Brookfield here >>
Option 1: get a UK based friend to send you a paper poppy and then make your donation via the Royal British Legion or Poppyscotland website. Note: there are very few memorials where you could leave your paper poppy.
Option 2: buy a new fangled pin badge to wear annually and each year, make a donation via the website.
– British Legion Poppy Shop – international postage about £14
– Poppyscotland Online Shop – international postage is £14
– British Legion USA – has a small selection of items from the UK shop, postage to Illinois is $6 per item
Do I get a day off work?
Both Veterans Day and Memorial Day are federal holidays so banks, schools and other public sector organisations close for the day and there are no post deliveries. These holidays are not mandated though so employers have a choice whether they include these as paid holidays. Only about a fifth of American companies give employees Veterans Day off but most give Memorial Day Monday off as it is the unofficial start to summer.
I hope this has gone someway to explaining where and how you can commemorate this year. PLEASE add your comments below to correct me or to add further information that will help other Expats!