The Way it Was – Armistice Day 1941

After the Pearl Harbor attack, Detroit, with its mighty auto, tank, and plane factories, forged into the forefront
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Armistice Day
Photograph courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

1941 There’s tragic irony inherent in this photo acknowledging Armistice Day in downtown Detroit, November 1941. A show of military strength parades down Woodward in front of the First National Bank Building, with military personnel (judging by the style of their helmets) standing alongside.

World War I was intended to “end the war of all wars.” But in less than a month from when this photo was taken, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in the early Sunday morning hours of Dec. 7, 1941, and “the war to end all wars” crumbled into a sad, naive illusion. A second, even bloodier war, was about to erupt. Although the war clouds had already burst open in the late 1930s with Nazi Germany attacks on European nations and Japanese assaults on China, Americans still clung to the hope that this was Europe or Asia’s war, and they could stay out of the conflict.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, our country had to scramble, and Detroit, with its mighty auto, tank, and plane factories, forged into the forefront, earning it the sobriquet “The Arsenal of Democracy.” In 1954, Armistice Day, Nov. 11, once honoring only World War I veterans, became Veterans Day, intended to honor veterans of all wars, both living and dead. Today, that veneration lives on. A Veterans Day parade will take place at 11 a.m. on Nov. 10, in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. November usually triggers to mind Thanksgiving and all its bountiful harvest, but without our valorous vets, we probably wouldn’t have much to celebrate.

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