On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as the Great War. Commemorated as Armistice Day (and for a time, Remembrance Day), Nov. 11 eventually became a legal federal holiday in the U.S. in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a time dedicated to American veterans of all wars.

In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day, with parades and gatherings, as well as a brief pause in business activities at 11 a.m. On Nov. 11, 1921, an unidentified American soldier killed in the war was buried at Arlington National Cemetery; the U.S. Congress had declared the day a legal federal holiday in honor of all those that participated in the war. On the same day, unidentified soldiers were laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Sometimes, societies have taken care of their warriors upon their return from the fields of battle; other times, they have failed miserably. Following the Spanish-American War, many veterans came home wounded and sick, and with no medical care or pensions, they were left to fend for themselves. That’s when the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the VFW, was founded, with chapters quickly forming across the country.

A tradition to honor veterans has developed with Veterans Day, and a conscious effort between the U.S. Veterans Administration and schools to bring students and veterans together on that day has been under way for many years. A number of Midcoast schools hold ceremonies on the day, and invite veterans and their families in, sometimes for a breakfast.

There has been a growing awareness that those who serve selflessly in the armed forces for their countries need support — financial, physical, emotional. Most of us, comfortable and secure in our lives, will never understand the hardships they have endured. We won’t know what it was like to lie in a muddy trench facing down a German army, or an icy mountain in Korea, where temperatures dipped well below freezing. We won’t know how constant humidity and insects of the Vietnam jungle wears a body and mind down. Nor will most of us ever understand what it is like to carry 75 pounds of gear across a desert in 110 degrees of searing heat, with a brutal enemy nearby.

Veterans have suffered in many ways, under many circumstances. Our government, at federal, state and local levels, has a large machine, functioning better than it has in years, to care for veterans upon their return, and as they reintegrate to a lifestyle far different from battle camps and the front line. Assistance also springs locally through grassroots initiatives, such as Veterans Helping Veterans with wood cutting and stacking, as well as social, emotional and therapeutic support.

In some communities, loose circles of veterans have formed. They get together and talk about their military histories, establishing vital and fundamental connections, and sharing experiences that family, friends and neighbors will never fully grasp. Those networks are just as important as state and federal programs.

This year, the federal government is urging Congress to approve a Returning Heroes tax credit, as well as expanding its Wounded Warrior tax credit. The Obama administration said last week that the unemployment rate for post-Sept. 11 veterans was at 12.1 percent, 3 percent more than the civilian unemployment rate.

Organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have endorsed the tax credits, which would encourage businesses to hire veterans. The credits, if approved, would be $5,600 per hire. And, there is an increase in the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit to $9,600 per veteran for businesses that hire veterans who have service-connected disabilities and who have been unemployed for an extended period of time.

Another initiatives is the creation of a Veteran Gold Card, which is to give post-Sept. 11 veterans access to services to help them find employment. The U.S. Department of Labor is also to launch an online Veterans Job Bank to help veterans find civilian jobs related to their military occupation. With more veterans anticipated to return home this year, there is a pressing need to get even more veterans employed.

While we honor veterans on just one day a year, it is the year-round care and attention of them that endures, and makes our communities, and country, stronger in the long run. While it is a soldier’s duty to serve, it is a society’s duty to ensure their soldiers are secured a safe and healthy place on their return, and through their lives.