Amid ‘really rough time’ for American unity, honoring veterans with ‘bells of peace’

Several hundred people gathered at Independence National Historical Park Sunday not only to celebrate Veterans Day. They also marked the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I with a moment of silence at 11:10 a.m., and then one minute later, at 11:11, 21 rings of a bell.

Paul Campbell, a park ranger at Independence Mall explained the significance of the time.

“On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, there was a ceasefire in all places where the battles of World War I were being fought,” Campbell said. “It was a cease fire that would bring an end to World War I, also known as the Great War, or the war to end all wars.

“How lovely it would be if that was a prediction that turned out to be true,” he added.

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The Centennial Bell rang in place of the cracked Liberty Bell (“silent in her enclosure nearby,” organizers said) along with other “bells of peace”  in schools, houses of worship, cemeteries, and other locations across the country in remembrance of the 116,516 U.S. men and women who died during World War I.

“We need to remember these things,” said Ray Harshbarger, another park ranger at Independence Mall and a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1978 to 1984. “If we don’t, we’re going to repeat the same thing. These people laid down their lives for our freedom and liberty. We need to remember freedom isn’t free.”

Ray Harshbarger has been a park ranger at Independence Mall for the last 18 years. During his upbringing in central Pennsylvania, it was commonplace to get a good job working in a factory. When his time came to choose a career path, factories were closing, so he decided to join the military.

After spending six and a half years in the military, he qualified for law enforcement, but due to working under rough conditions, he eventually sought out a different lifestyle and became a park ranger.

Harshbarger says he lost 243 of his “brothers” in Lebanon during his time in the Marine Corps, and speaks from personal experience when it comes to war.

“You can make a stand and make your voice heard without killing another human being,” he said.

Fran LaRosa, a life-long resident of Philadelphia, whose father fought in World War II, thought the event was a good way to commemorate an important anniversary, especially in the midst of so much political division in America.

“We’re going through a really rough time right now, and it’s nice to see people come out and remember our history, and hopefully learn from it.”

“The land of the free — that means for everyone, not just people that we agree with or like. We have to hold onto that,” she added.

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