Today is Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day. In 1919, President Wilson established November 11 as the day to remember our veterans with these words: “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…”
In 1968, the Uniform Holiday Bill moved Veterans Day so that it became part of a three-day weekend. But unlike other holidays, the significance of the 11th hour of the 11th month was not to be deferred to a three-day weekend. After three years of total confusion, President Ford wisely decided that tradition of this patriotic pride should be returned to its original date. On October 25, 1971, he returned it to November 11 regardless of the day of week.
We dedicate this one day to honor those who served our country. We honor them for their sacrifice.
My dad fought in World War II. He often talked about how soldiers were drafted for “the duration.” What a scary thought that must have been. They were shipped off to war with no idea of when they would come home, or if they would come home. World War II had 297 deaths per day. A total of 405,399 American soldiers died in this war. This entire country was vested in that war. Everyone sacrificed and did their part. People were given rationing stamps for everything from tires to food. Manufacturing of automobiles and home appliances were stopped. And racing fans—all auto racing was banned, including the Indianapolis 500 for the duration of the war.
Jim Fisher, my brother Tommy, and nine percent of their generation served in Vietnam. Jim served nearly a year, and my brother Tommy came home after three months when he was wounded.
Jim’s wounds were harder to see. He was wounded in spirit and had an untreated cervical spine injury. A total of 2,709,918 were sent to Vietnam and 58,202 died. Sixty-one percent of them were twenty-one years old or younger. Five of them were sixteen years old.
Unlike previous World War veterans, Vietnam veterans did not see a hero’s homecoming. They came back individually. Some were lovingly met by family members, others came home to be spit on and called “baby killers.” Jim never forgave “Hanoi Jane” and was thoroughly disgusted with Hollywood’s portrayal of “crazed” Vietnam veteran killers in TV shows and movies. He suffered from PTSD, and I can’t help but wonder what part the aftermath of Vietnam played in his early-onset dementia.
Many Americans reap the benefits of our country without personal sacrifice, and it seems that disparaging our government has become the norm. We whine about how awful things have become and borrow trouble on a daily basis. We have split this country along party lines rather than being united in the common good. We’re too busy placing blame for what goes wrong and taking credit for what goes right. We salute the flag with our hands over our hearts, but too many hearts don’t believe in the United States of America. We take freedom for granted, and by doing so, we are figuratively slapping our veterans’ faces.
Today, November 11, is a day to not only honor our veterans, but also to truly appreciate them. Going to war to preserve our freedom to complain, whine, and gripe is not a small feat. It involves sacrifice, dedication, bravery, and often leaves scars externally and/or internally.
Today would be a good time to count blessings and be thankful for the freedom we have here in the United States. It is an opportunity to be grateful, truly grateful. Veterans Day is one day to find every veteran you know and say, “Thank you for your service.”
copyright © November 2014