To those of us growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, Nov. 11 was always Armistice Day, the commemoration of the 1918 ending of the Great War, which now has come to be called World War I. Our fathers and our uncles, still relatively young men, would talk of the horrors of France or, if they hadn't gotten overseas, the discomforts of their training camps.

Now, because it has become a cumulative recognition of those who served in all wars, the day is called Veterans Day, but there are still participants who look back on what they consider the real Armistice.

They are men like John P. Lester of Silver Spring, a Marine private gassed in France in 1918, now 81, who for the 15th straight year will command the color guard that will march into the amphitheater at Arlington Cemetery this morning for the nation's principal observance of the day.

Attired in a beribboned, full-dress uniform with captain's bars -- they're strictly honorary, as captain in the Marine Corps League -- Lester said he will meet his platoon members at the amphitheater gate and will "line 'em up, bring 'em in, take 'em out."

Lester was crossing the Atlantic to Washington on the hospital ship Solace when the radiogram arrived on Nov. 11, 1918, announcing the enemy's surrender.

When the word arrived, Lester said yesterday, "we weren't quite sure" if it was true. The Solace sailed up the Potomac River and docked at the Washington Navy Yard. Lester, a native of Martinsville, Va., was hospitalized here for two years. He is now retired from the Veterans Administration after 42 years of civilian service.

Incidentally, according to the VA, there are about 416,000 survivors from among the 4.7 million men and women who served in the military in world War I.