General George Washington and Old Nelson,
The Prayer at Valley Forge, by Arnold Friberg

Another year is rapidly approaching its end and thus, it is again time to take note of the onset of the Holiday Season. Regrettably, last year's somewhat melancholy Thanksgiving post seems only too appropriate as we gather with friends and family to celebrate this year's holiday. Much has happened since last Thanksgiving, but sadly, very little seems to have improved from last year to this. Nonetheless, in keeping with the original spirit of this special day of Thanksgiving and Community renewal, I still remain hopeful that next November will see a happier holiday, for many of our fellow Americans, than this one.

As we again celebrate Thanksgiving with our families and friends, let us take a moment to remember all those whose lives and circumstances have been made more precarious by our Nation’s current economic problems. And let us also remember those who presently serve in faraway places on our behalf. This year, like the one preceding it, has been a challenging time for many Americans, but let us hope and pray that the year to come will be better and more prosperous for all of our fellow citizens, both friends and strangers, alike.

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The Continental Marine Corps, landing for the Battle of Nassau.
Although I personally served in the US Army many, many years ago, the 10th of November has taken on a new significance to me, of late, because of my brother’s son. As most frequent visitors to this blog already know, my youngest nephew is a US Marine who is presently serving halfway around the globe. This is his first overseas deployment and, as might be expected, it has been a long, dangerous, and often arduous tour; however, difficult as this period has been for all of us here in the “States” who know and worry about him, it now looks like my nephew’s current deployment will soon be ending. Moreover, it appears that, barring unforeseen circumstances, he should finally be coming back not just for a short visit, but to begin a comparatively long tour of duty in the US. This is, needless-to-say, very welcome news. So, in recognition of the service of my nephew and also of that of the thousands of other men and women who wear the “Globe and Anchor,” I have decided to join the small chorus of those who celebrate the birth of the Marine Corps two-hundred and thirty-five years ago, today.

General John A Lejeune with
French Legion of Honor medal.
Just like the new nation that it was intended to serve, the Marine Corps came into existence during the Revolutionary War; and its accomplishments, from that day to the present, are too numerous to list. However, to honor its long and indispensible service to these United States, the date of the Corps’ establishment was formally commemorated by its 13th Commandant, the legendary Major General John A. Lejeune, on November 1st, 1921. On that date, the Commandant issued the following proclamation and ordered that it be disseminated on 10 November to every Marine unit under his command, wherever it was serving around the world. This tradition, first begun eighty-nine years ago by the “Greatest Leatherneck of All Time,” continues to be followed to this day. Major General Lejeune’s special Birthday Proclamation reads as follows:

No. 47 (Series 1921)
Washington, November 1, 1921

759. The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10 November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

(1) On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousands of men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

(2) The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war and in the long era of tranquility at home generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas so that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

(3) In every battle and skirmish since the birth of the corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

(4) This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has long been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.

Major General Commandant

U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial,
(aka "The Iwo Jima Memorial")
Washington, D.C., Sunset Parade.
Major General Lejeune could not know, when he penned his Birthday Proclamation in 1921, what the coming years would hold for his beloved Corps. He could not know, for instance, that future generations of Marines would see bitter action in the Pacific, in Korea, in Vietnam, in the Middle East, and in Afghanistan; but, if the Commandant could not be sure where the coming generations of Marines would fight, he was nonetheless confident that those future Marines would meet whatever challenges they encountered head-on with all the skill, courage, fidelity, and determination demanded by the deeply-ingrained traditions of the Corps. And the general’s faith in the spirit and battle-worthiness of the Marines to come after him, future events would show, was well-placed.

Happy 235th Birthday to the United States Marine Corps; may it have many returns to come.


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November 11th: A Day of Remembrance and Thanksgiving

World War I Memorial, on the National Mall, Washington D.C.
The day after tomorrow, November 11th, is Veterans Day. Here in the United States, it is now mainly seen as a national holiday dedicated to those Americans, both past and present, who have taken up arms in the defense of the Republic. This contemporary view of the purpose of Veterans Day, however, is very different from its precursor which was first celebrated in 1919. Not surprisingly, as the years have passed, the original purpose and meaning of this national holiday has gradually faded into obscurity. It still, of course, shows up on calendars, but the significance of November 11th no longer exercises the hold it once did on the public consciousness. Time passes and memories fade; and probably nowhere is this observation more accurate than when it comes to the United States. In fact, it seems that, when it comes to important commemorative dates from our history, we Americans tend to be an oddly forgetful lot.

World War I Poster
Perhaps, this widespread inclination towards historical amnesia comes from the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. It could be that our forebears, having gambled their lives and futures on an uncertain fate in a new land, consciously chose to leave behind their traditional ties to history and place. Alternatively, it could be that both our knowledge of and appreciation for the significant events of the past have been largely erased by a modern educational establishment that no longer really teaches history at all. How else can we explain the various academic studies that show that the majority of present-day high school seniors cannot even place the American Civil War in the correct century; or that an embarrassingly high percentage of recent graduates from our most prestigious “Ivy League” universities cannot correctly identify the member nations that fought on the side of either the Axis or the Allies during World War II; much less those that belonged to the Entente or to the Central Powers during World War I? Whatever the reason, holidays such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Washington and Lincoln’s Birthday, and even the Fourth of July have all gradually lost much of their historical significance and their popular cachet when it comes to contemporary American culture. This popular tendency to discount the past, I cannot help but believe, is quite unfortunate. It is unfortunate because it weakens the shared historical narrative that binds us together as a nation, and also because, by encouraging us to focus too much on the mundane “goings on” of the present, it undermines both our ability and even our willingness, as informed citizens, to wisely plan for our collective future.

General John J. Pershing,
Commander, American Expeditionary Forces
Veterans Day, as a national holiday, especially suffers in this regard: first because its significance as the date of the armistice that ended World War I is far removed from our contemporary national experience; second, because it was very early-on eclipsed by its proximity on the calendar to more commercially important holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas; and third, because once the American military became an all-volunteer force, the direct connection between those who serve and the larger society mainly disappeared. During both World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and even the Vietnam War, mass conscription guaranteed that the burden of military service was widely-shared by different sectors of society. Not so today; instead, we now live in the era in which the vast majority of Americans not only do not choose to enter military service, but do not even have a personal connection to those patriotic few who do. Thus, although it may be regrettable, it is hardly surprising that a great many ordinary Americans give little, if any, real thought to either the historical meaning of November 11th, or to its more immediate significance as a day that commemorates the very real sacrifices of those who currently serve.

WWI Veteran at Armistice Day Commemoration
Speaking as a veteran of the Vietnam War, I must confess that, for much of my adult life, I nonetheless failed, like many others, to treat November 11th with the seriousness and respect that it deserves. However, as I have gotten older, I have come to realize that while I and my countrymen may occasionally suffer our lapses when it comes to acknowledging those who now bear, or who have borne the past burden of the nation’s defense, we still can and do make an honest effort to honor, however awkwardly, our debt to America’s veterans. For this reason, I believe that in spite of our wide-spread national tendency towards historical forgetfulness, it is the fundamental decency and goodness of ordinary Americans that will continue, in spite of the superficiality and shallowness of our popular culture, to come through time and time again. So, on this Veterans Day, I join with many of my fellow Americans in saluting 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 count, honor the service of our veterans, both past and present.

A Brief History of this Special Day of Remembrance

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme is a major
war memorial to 72,090 missing British and Commonwealth men who
died in the Battle of the Somme of the First World War and who have
no known grave. It is located near the French village of Thiepval Picardie.
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.

The Desert View High School ROTC
marches in the Tucson, Arizona
2007 Veterans Day Parade.
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.
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