200 Bells -- The Amazing Armistice Centennial Event hosted by the John J Morris American Legion Post 62, of Peoria, AZ
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission
Although the World War I Armistice Centennial took place a few weeks ago, we continue to be amazed by stories that are coming to us from around the country, on local commemorative events that took place to honor our World War I veterans. One such story came to us from our friends at the John J. Morris American Legion Post 62 of Peoria, Arizona. Public Affairs volunteer Marge Christianson told us about their event.
"The John J Morris American Legion Family in Peoria, AZ holds a flag raising ceremony every Veteran’s Day at 11:00. With total membership of over 3,000, it’s a big day – with many participants, guest speakers, pot luck feast, entertainment.
Keen to “hundred-year anniversaries” -- 2019 is the American Legion’s 100th, and 2020 is the Auxiliary’s -- Post 62 Auxiliary decided to do something special as part of the WW1CC's “Bells of Peace" program.
Post 62's junior members worked through the crowd of attendees, handing out poppies (a WWI symbol) -- and small keepsake bells, for each guest to ring as part of the "Bells of Peace".
Just prior to 11:00, Post Commander, James McCrady, holding a large brass hand bell, gave this speech:
“100 years ago today, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, World War One officially ended—but not before 116, 516 Americans gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy today.
"Each of you have received a “bell of peace” to ring with others across the country at exactly 11:00 local time.
"Today, we remember the 4.7 million Americans who stepped forward to serve in uniform, the 2 million that were deployed overseas to fight, the 200,000 wounded and the 116, 516 who died.
"Please join me in ringing your bell.”
In a solemn moment, each person, of all ages & backgrounds, rang their bell.
After the ceremony, the audience members started handing their keepsake bells back! We had not expected that, but evidently they felt that they had just “borrowed them” for the ceremony.
Recognizing the poignancy of each bell, many rung by Veterans themselves, the Auxiliary put their creative heads together and decided to take the small bells, and make them into Angels of Peace.
As Christmas decorations, they might have a long life, carefully wrapped away each year to be brought out and remembered again.
Each bell was repurposed as an angel. They are now in the process of being given to friends and members with this message:
“This one-of-a-kind Angel of Peace was made from a bell that was rung at a flag raising ceremony on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 2018—exactly 100 years after the signing of peace agreements that ended WWI. It honors all who have served, are serving or will serve in the Armed Forces of the United States of America. It also serves as a symbol of peace for their families at home and to the rest of the world.”
As a result of this effort -- the response has been amazing.
One military mom gathered her family and friends together and read the message with weepy eyes. She said it was the best gift she would receive.
The editor of the local newspaper said it would be her honor to display her angel on her tree. We received wordless hugs from the women veterans—many going through hard times themselves.
We have distributed 75 angel-bells and are still busy making more. I will send one to my great niece who was born Oct 31, 2018.
We also have a Gold Star mom in our Unit; she will get one too.
Patriotism to your country is like loyalty to a dear friend. You may not always agree with decisions made, but you strive to constructively support them, defend them and help them improve. By remembering WWI, we remember those who served and are reminded or our own responsibility to support, defend and improve our country.