Monday, October 12, 2009

Plan for Veterans Day

Sheila and I were working on our newsletter for Military Vet Shop and I decided to do a short article on Veterans Day. I thought I might share a few of those thoughts (and a few more) with you here. Veterans Day means a lot to me. Not for myself, but for our veterans. I think it is one of the most overlooked federal holidays we have. One where we have to remind ourselves what it was created for. As our veteran population decreases in this country, I think we are in danger of loosing the meaning of the day. Is it because there is not a 3-day weekend associated with it? Or do non-veterans confuse the intent of the day with Memorial Day? I'm not sure.

I enjoy meeting veterans. Perhaps it is because I am one, or because I like history and most all veterans have a story to tell. I don't get to meet that many any more, so I thought there weren't that many of us around. But I just checked out the VA website, and found out that it's not true. There are a lot of us around. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are approximately 23.8 million living veterans in the United States. Women make up 7.5 percent of that number. Spouses and dependent children of living veterans and survivors of deceased veterans make up another 37 million Americans. Together those groups make up about 20 percent of the U.S. population. While those are big numbers, it is still an exclusive club. November 11th of each year is the day we set aside to honor the service and sacrifice of our living veterans.

Veterans Day has its roots in what was called “Armistice Day.” While World War I ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, most people assume it was the day of the cessation of hostilities. Germany and the Allied nations agreed that fighting would end on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. The following year, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first observance of “Armistice Day” on November 11, 1919. For some reason, after the carnage of "The Great War," a lot of folks thought that we'd never have another one and called it "the war to end all wars." After 27 states had made the day a legal state holiday, Congress echoed President Wilson’s proclamation in 1926, and then passed a law creating a federal holiday in 1938.

Originally, Armistice Day was created to honor the veterans of WWI and to set aside a day “to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.” However, by 1954 the country had survived World War II, which had required the greatest mobilization of armed forces in our history, and the end of hostilities in Korea. Congress passed Public Law 380, which President Eisenhower enthusiastically signed, making November 11th of each year a federal holiday that would be called “Veterans Day” to honor all of our living veterans.

For a few years, starting in 1971, we tried moving Veterans Day to the closest Monday to the eleventh in order to create a three-day weekend. It didn’t work out too well. It was made obvious to Congress that this day has great historical, patriotic, and emotional significance to many of our people. A law was passed changing the official observance of Veterans Day back to the way it originally was. Since 1978 we have honored our veterans on November 11th regardless of what day of week it falls on.

Remember that Memorial Day is to honor those who have fallen in war. Veterans Day was created to recognize all of our veterans for their service. On this coming November 11th, take the opportunity to say "thank you" to an American veteran. If you are a veteran, then thank another vet. Because no one understands better than a fellow veteran. Since the day a WWII veteran thanked me for my service, I've never looked at the day the same.

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