My patriotism and love of country was learned by observing my elders carrying out their responsibilities as citizens, watching them exercise their rights, listening to their conversations and asking questions. My Dad, a Korean War veteran, had me help him raise and lower Old Glory on a daily basis. He brought me along to vote with him, explaining the process and why he was voting for the people he was hoping to elect. My Uncle Thorwald was an Army artilleryman at the Pusan Perimeter in the early dark days of the Korean War. As a teenager interested in history, I asked him if he had ever considered surrendering in the face of those overwhelming odds. He never actually answered but his look of disbelief, disgust and “you’re old enough to know better” said it all. We owe our veterans of every generation, each service and all eras more than we can ever hope to repay. Without them, life would be very different indeed for this country.
Veteran’s Day originated as Armistice Day immediately after World War I. People were optimistic after the carnage of the Great War (as World War I was known when people thought we’d learned our lesson and would never have another big war again) and wanted to commemorate the day when peace was restored to the world. Since the Treaty of Versailles ending WWI was signed November 11, 1918 at 11 a.m. that day and time was chosen for commemoration. This day is still celebrated in many countries throughout the world as Armistice or Remembrance Day. It would eventually become known as Veteran’s Day in the United States.
World War II US Navy veteran Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Alabama, personally petitioned Army Chief of Staff General Dwight Eisenhower in 1946 to convert Armistice Day from a day commemorating the end of World War I into a day to honor all veterans regardless of branch, duration of service or place of deployment. General Eisenhower thought it was a good idea but it was ultimately up to Congress to act. In 1954, Congress did act and now President Eisenhower signed the law creating Veteran’s Day. There is also an Armed Forces Day to honor all who are currently serving in our military. It is observed on the third Saturday in May.
As important as veterans are, they don’t serve alone. Their families serve and suffer too. Folk singer Mary Gauthier held a writing seminar with veterans and their families to help them express their experiences in song. Their stories are on the album Rifles & Rosary Beads. The song "Soldiering On" expresses the veterans’ view of service: “You don’t fight for yourself, You fight for the ones at your side, They do the same for you, And to live you must be willing to die, But what saves you in battle can kill you at home, A Soldier soldiering on.” There are other songs like "Got Your Six" and "Brothers" that talk about the bonding experience of military service. There are songs from the perspectives of military spouses, like "The War After The War:" “I get no basic training I get no Purple Heart I’m supposed to carry on I can’t fall apart, People look at you and thank you for the sacrifice you made, They look at me and say I’m lucky you’re okay, Invisible, the war after the war.”
Remember that this country wouldn’t be the bastion of rights and freedoms that it is without the service and sacrifice of our veterans. Also consider the struggle and stress of those who stood behind the ones behind the gun, the people who kept the home fires burning and picked up the pieces when necessary. Thank you to all our veterans and their families; every liberty that we enjoy is due to them. God bless America and the Americans that kept it, and keep it, safe and protected.