Friday marked the 242nd birthday of the United States Marine Corps, and there were observances nationwide, both to celebrate the founding of America’s first marine force of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Marines, on November 10th, 1775, and to remember all the Marines throughout history who gave their lives defending America, our allies and countless victims of tyranny and oppression worldwide.
And of course, today, November 11th is Veterans Day. Memorial Day is reserved for those veterans who died in the line of duty, but Veterans Day is a time to show appreciation for everyone who ever wore the uniform of the Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard, past and present. But do you know the story of how it all began?
Veterans Day was first proclaimed as Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, to commemorate the official end of World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Other nations that fought in World War I have their versions of that holiday, such as Remembrance Day. But like the US Marine Corps, Veterans Day is something uniquely American.
Armistice Day was observed in the US for a couple of decades, but gradually, as the memory of World War I receded and another World War loomed, Americans began thinking of ways to honor veterans of all the wars who fought to security the blessings of liberty (as the great military editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin noted, “If World War I was ‘The War to End All Wars,’ then why did they give it a number?”)
In 1945, WWII veteran Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Alabama, began a personal crusade to turn Armistice Day into a state holiday honoring all veterans. The idea quickly took hold, and in 1953, an Emporia, Kansas, shoe store owner named Al King took up the torch to make it a national holiday. The Emporia Chamber of Commerce joined his crusade, and the very next year, Emporia-born Congressman Edward Rees introduced a bill to create Veterans Day. It was signed by a President who just happened to be a retired Army man from Kansas himself: Dwight Eisenhower. Proving once again that if you want to get something done fast in Washington, let a military vet from the Midwest handle it.
These days, we’re bombarded with media-created heroes, from athletes to pop stars to endless movies filled with comic book superheroes. But they pale into insignificance beside the real greatest American heroes: the men and women of the United States military, who took on the duty of protecting our freedoms, our homeland and the defenseless around the world. They knew it might require the ultimate sacrifice, but they didn’t turn and run. And since 1973, with the end of the military draft, they’ve not only stepped up to take on that burden and risk, they've done it entirely voluntarily.
There is nothing partisan about supporting our veterans. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, your rights are protected by them. Today, fewer than 0.5% of the US population currently serve, and just over 7% have ever served. That means very few among us have carried the load for the rest of us. When they come home after giving so much for us, you’d think they would be treated like royalty. Sadly, many aren’t. Some veterans return home suffering deep physical and mental wounds, and they deserve the best care possible. It is simply intolerable that so many veterans have suffered long waits and lack of attention from the VA system, and that as many as 20 a day commit suicide.
I know the debt is sky-high, and spending needs to be cut. But you don’t slash your top priority. Health care for our veterans should always be top priority, as should correcting the shameful recent lapses on the part of the VA. Anyone in that department who would place protecting the system ahead of protecting veterans needs to find a new career right now – forcibly, if necessary.
Americans haven’t always been as grateful to our veterans as they should be. During the Vietnam era, too many people shamefully transferred their hostility over an unpopular war to those who were sent to fight it. The Reagan era brought a renewed sense of patriotism, pride and gratitude for our armed forces. But in recent years, we’ve seen that start to erode a bit, as self-proclaimed activists have started putting their personal crusades ahead of the most basic common traditions that show respect for America and its veterans. A sign I saw this week pretty much summed up my feelings—it simply said: “A man with a helmet defending our country should make more money than a man with a helmet defending a football.”
If I take a knee, it will never be to disrespect our flag, our National Anthem, or those who fought to provide our freedom. It will be in respect and awe of the veterans to whom we owe a debt we can never repay.
Today would be a great day to renew our commitment to placing respect and gratitude for America’s veterans back on top of our priorities lists. You can do that by writing your Congressional Representatives to urge them to support veterans, by attending a parade or other formal event, donating to or volunteering for one of the many worthwhile veterans’ aid organizations, picking up the check for someone in uniform at a restaurant, or just telling a veteran or active duty military member you happen to see, “Thank you for your service.”
Better yet, do all of the above. And not just on Veterans Day, but all year ‘round.
PLEASE LEAVE ME AND THE VETERANS WHO WILL READ THIS COMMENTARY A COMMENT BELOW.