Happy Veterans’ Day

Today, November 11th, is Veterans’ Day in the U.S. It is the day, when, with great threspect, we honor and pay homage to the 7 percent of the population who donned a military uniform at some point in their lives and took care of business. Without the service and sacrifice of that seven percent, the other 93 percent of the population would likely be toast of some description or another. This day is celebrated throughout the country in many different ways. In President Obama’s 2012 Veterans’ Day remarks, he acknowledged that “…Today, a proud nation expresses our gratitude.  But we do so mindful that no ceremony or parade, no hug or handshake is enough to truly honor that service.  For that, we must do more.  For that, we must commit –- this day and every day -– to serving you as well as you’ve served us….” I agree and wait for that process to begin. It saddens me that the U.S. President chooses to speak in China rather than at Arlington National Cemetery this morning.

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities. This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities. This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect

A temporary cease fire agreed to on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 dropped a veil of relief on the WWI battlefields of Europe and kick-started the process that is now Veteran’s Day. The peace accords weren’t signed until the next year, but the quiet of 11/11/1918 marked the end of the ‘War to end all wars’[1]. “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” These words were spoken by President Wilson on November 11, 1919 during the first commemoration of Armistice Day.

In 1938, Armistice Day became a nationally sanctioned U.S. holiday. “…An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I….”[2]

By the 1950s it became clear that war was not going away anytime soon. World War II had begun and ended and the Cold War was off and running in Korea. Tens of thousands of American soldiers had died and millions were wounded. In the 1950s Eisenhower, an old, seasoned warrior was in the Whitehouse. And, soldiers who had seen service in the Civil War and children from soldiers who fought in the War of 1812 were stark reminders that peace was a fleeting dream.

President Eisenhower supported the veterans’ service organizations in their push to amend the Act of 1938. The 83rd Congress amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” On June 1, 1954 Congress passed Public Law 380 and November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

The first Veterans Day Proclamation was issued by President Dwight D. Eisenhower

President Eisenhower signing HR7786, changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. From left: Alvin J. King, Wayne Richards, Arthur J. Connell, John T. Nation, Edward Rees, Richard L. Trombla, Howard W. Watts

President Eisenhower signing HR7786, changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. From left: Alvin J. King, Wayne Richards, Arthur J. Connell, John T. Nation, Edward Rees, Richard L. Trombla, Howard W. Watts

on October 8, 1954. It stated: “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.”

Of course, the government is nothing if not a bureaucracy so the November 11th day got all bollixed up when the federal government decided we all needed three day weekends rather than traditional holidays.

“…The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people….”(See Footnote 2)

thank youThank you, veterans of all wars.  Most U.S. citizens either are a veteran of know one. We write blogs, study,  go to the grocery store certain of a food supply, read whatever books we choose, and live safe lives because of the sacrifice of time and energy you chose to make. Whether you served two years or thirty, fought in the front lines, repaired aircraft or ran logistics, you’ve made a difference in the lives of hundreds of millions of individuals in the United States and the lives of billions around the globe. We cannot know what you endured, but we can thank you.

First published 11/11/2014

[1] Why is it called the ‘War to end all wars’? “It triggered the collapse of the three major empires of eastern Europe and central Asia: Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. It gave rise to the Russian Revolution and to the Soviet Union; it prompted the first major U.S. incursion into world affairs; and it both failed to resolve the problems of the Balkans and generated new ones in the Middle East. These perspectives on World War I have become even more immediate since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is small wonder, then, that in a 1998 opinion poll, French students ranked the war as the second most important event of the last century, trailing behind only its successor. In fact, the agenda in 1914 was so important that much of it is still on the table….” http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/58637/hew-strachan/the-war-to-end-all-wars-lessons-of-world-war-i-revisited

[2] History of Veterans Day; http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp

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