Exactly 100 years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice was declared, effectively ending the carnage of the First World War.

A century later, what was originally celebrated as Armistice Day has evolved into what we now know as Veterans Day, a federal holiday honoring all living men and women who have served in the American armed forces.

For this year’s 100th anniversary celebration, local K -8 school Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy hosted a special assembly featuring a student parade, musical performances of patriotic songs and speeches by several area veterans detailing the history of World War I as well their own time in various branches of the service.

Navy veteran Dennis Staab spoke of his days as a gunner in Vietnam and how fortunate he felt to make it home alive.

He spoke of the sacrifices made both by those who serve and by their families who remain behind. In his case, that meant many a sleepless night for his mother, as all three of her sons were deployed in active combat at the same time.

All three survived the war, although not unscathed due to lingering health effects from Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals to which he and many other soldiers were exposed as unwitting test subjects.

Visibly emotional as he described the psychological trauma inflicted upon troops by the horrors of war, Staab spoke of his own struggles dealing with the aftermath of what combat entails.

“The taking of human life weighs heavily on the human heart and soul – even if it’s the enemy and they would kill you if they could,” he said. “Even though they would probably dance on your grave.”

But he went on to say how thankful he was for the kindness and support he received from ordinary Americans as he traveled around the U.S. following his return from oversees.

“It really reinforced my faith in the people of our country,” Staab said.

Staab spoke about current high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or “shell shock” as it was once known. PTSD is a condition that afflicts many veterans from the nation’s myriad wars and military interventions of the past century. Staab and the other speakers were unanimous in stressing the need to provide counseling, medication or other forms of treatment to those in need.

“Twenty-two veterans take their life every day,” Rob Donaldson, Post Commander of the Eatonville American Legion, said, tearing up at the thought.

When asked what civilians could do to help, he was adamant about the importance of “telling someone, anyone” if you see a struggling vet.

“Veterans need to talk to veterans. Spouses need to talk to spouses,” he added.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion were all mentioned as excellent resources, providing direct aid as well as advocacy in congress. Although admitting the care they provide can be far from perfect, Donaldson remains a strong advocate nonetheless.

“They’re trying,” he said. “They do the best they can.”

Together with several of the other veterans present at the reception following the ceremony, Donaldson singled out the American Legion as being one of the most impactful organizations to make financial donations to. He and the others were all keen to note that 100 percent of donated dollars go directly to helping veterans, with administrative costs paid for by members’ dues alone.

Veterans Day this year fell on a Sunday, so the holiday was formally observed the following day, Monday, Nov. 12. Americans are encouraged to use the time to reflect on what it means to be American and to recognize those who have risked their lives to protect the liberties we all enjoy.

That was the message expressed by the students and staff of Columbia Crest. For as the last of the guests filed out of the auditorium, as chairs and musical equipment were packed up and projectors put away, several large hand-painted banners adorning the walls were all that remained, each bearing the same simple message.

“Thank you, veterans,” they read.