Veterans Day by Gil Potts

BY GIL POTTS

At the end of World Wars I and II, returning veterans were met with confetti and parades. They fought and won the war, and our soldiers received a hard-earned, well-deserved hero’s welcome.  

“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…” 

These were the words of President Woodrow Wilson. The occasion decreed an end of hostilities, officially concluding what had become known as “The Great War.” The armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, took effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. The year was 1918. 

Even though the Treaty of Versailles wasn’t signed until June 28, 1919, the official end of the “war to end all wars” is considered to be Nov. 11, 1918. 

Tuesday of this week was, in remembrance of that day, Veterans Day. It was the designated day to say thank you to your veteran and honor those you might not have been so privileged to know.   

Originally, celebratory intentions were to be a day of parades and public meetings, and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m. every year on Nov. 11. It was considered fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date be commemorated with thanksgiving, prayer, and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.

On May 13, 1938 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation making the 11th of November of each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” 

Then, on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. But in 1968, the Uniform Holiday Bill was enacted. 

It was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. The idea was to encourage travel and recreational activities and thus generate economic benefits for the country. 

Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

October 25, 1971 was the first Veterans Day under the new law, and was observed with a great deal of confusion. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to the American public. So much so that on September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97, which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. 

It’s interesting that the holiday designated to honor our veterans appeared so important to the American public, yet returning Viet Nam veterans were met with so much disdain only a few years earlier.

As you can see, veterans and Veterans Day over the years, has endured varying degrees of esteem. Too many today don’t know the story of its origin, or understand the magnitude of its importance. For some, it’s just another holiday, just another excuse for a day off from work, another beer, another BBQ with neighbors and friends. 

Too many civilians have little or no regard for the sacrifices made in the preservation of their way of life, their liberty, and freedom itself. 

This may seem awkward to some folks, at least to begin with, but you don’t have to wait until next year to thank a vet. Just start with the one you know, the one you sincerely do appreciate, but sometimes forget to mention to, just how much you are truly appreciative for his or her patriotic service. Just be sincere.  

Your words could help a veteran retain the feelings of pride and dignity they are rightfully entitled to. But for too many veterans of the Viet Nam era, those feelings sometimes become confused with guilt or compunction. There were no parades or ticker-tape at home-coming. There was no display of appreciation or public recognition. 

The difference between the world wars and the conflicts in Southeast Asia and more recently the Middle East, may be in the way those wars were fought or politically managed.  President Kennedy’s intentions were most likely in the best interest of freedom around the world when he ordered American advisors and troops to Vietnam. That was also the guiding factor to President Bush’s incursion into Iraq. 

The concept that a war can be successfully executed though by setting terms of battle or pre-defining its duration is utter foolishness. It’s an operation that can’t be won, and caught in the aftermath of politically motivated strategies are the airmen, soldiers, sailors and marines of our treasured American military. It produces veterans deprived of the glory of victory in the service of their nation, yet burdens them heavily with the transgressions of war, to carry throughout life, with justification denied.  

So from now until next Veterans Day, keep in mind that some veterans may not need or want constant reminders of those times past, but once in a while in private or on special occasion, your compassion may be enough to keep the “pride alive” for the veterans of actual combat.

Coming home for some may be the opportunity to live a new life, or have their old one back. Just remember, it can be a challenge at times to fit back into society when the ghosts of war have followed your veteran home. 

In France, there’s a statue of a young woman, one leg bent at the knee, in the arms of an American G. I., both locked in embrace. Maybe that’s the welcome home our young veterans really need.