A Time to Honor Those who have Secured Our Freedoms and Our Way of Life throughout the History of This Republic

This Veterans Day is, because of the recent tragedy at Fort Hood, an especially poignant reminder of the many extraordinary sacrifices that our men and women in uniform, both at home and abroad, make daily on our behalf.

Being a Vietnam veteran, myself, and given America’s checkered history it its treatment of its veterans, I have probably not treated this holiday with as much seriousness as it deserves. However, as I have gotten older, I have come to realize that while our country may occasionally suffer its lapses when it comes to recognizing those who now bear, and who have borne the past burden of the nation’s defense; in the end, the fundamental decency and goodness of ordinary Americans comes through again and again. So, on this Veterans Day, I salute the servicemen and women who repeatedly go into harm’s way on our behalf, and I also salute the countless numbers of civilians who, in ways too numerous to recount, honor the service of our veterans, both past and present.

Finally, in keeping with my thoughts on this Veterans Day, I have decided to include a short discussion of the origins of this, often misunderstood, national holiday.

A Brief History of this Special Day of Remembrance

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I — the “War to End All Wars” — finally came to an end with the formal acceptance by representatives of the German government of the Allied terms for an Armistice. The Continent was again at peace, and the carnage of four years of industrialized warfare, after consuming the greater part of a generation of European youth, had finally sputtered to an end.

After the guns became silent in 1918, many European countries came to commemorate November 11th as a day of remembrance and thanksgiving. In the British Commonwealth, the red Poppy became the symbol for the end of the First World War’s bloodshed and the advent of peace, and remains so to this day.

Across the Atlantic, American President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the national observance of the first Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. Seven years later, the U.S. Congress passed a concurrent resolution calling for the President to again declare a formal observance of November 11th as a day of remembrance for all those Americans who had fallen during the Great War. Finally, on 13 May, 1938, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation to make Armistice Day a legal holiday.

In 1953, thanks mainly to the efforts of an ordinary store owner named Al King from Emporia, Kansas, a movement gathered momentum in the United States to transform Armistice Day into a national holiday that would celebrate the sacrifices of all American veterans, not just those who had served and died during World War I. This change was formally recognized when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the new measure into law on 26 May, 1954. A few months later, Congress amended the language of this act to replace the word “Armistice” with that of “Veterans” and, with this final change, our current federally-mandated holiday took on its present-day form.

As the preceding account illustrates, our understanding and appreciation of Veterans Day and what it represents has gone through a number of changes over the years, but the dependence of our society on the sacrifices of veterans has been a constant reminder that the American way of life comes at a cost, and that we, as a nation, are fortunate that one generation after another of our fellow citizens has been willing to bear that cost.


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