Yesterday was Veterans Day.
Originally named Armistice Day, it was meant to be recognized on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – the date and time that the armistice ending World War I went into effect.
World War I was known for a while as “the war to end all wars.”
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “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…”
The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business at 11 a.m.
Each year, on this national holiday, as far back as I can remember, my parents and grandparents would take my brother and me down to the center of our town to a Veterans Day ceremony held in front of a Veterans of Foreign Wars plaque which listed by year and conflict the names of the brave men and women from our city who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
I can remember a few years we attended when the Vietnam War was still in full swing and how I stared at the shiny brass plates which were newly affixed next to the adjacent older tarnished ones. As a teen, when we would attend I’d wonder if any of the fallen soldier’s parents or loved ones were standing among us.
Though I was a little too young to understand its meaning when we first began this tradition, I could tell by everyone’s respectful tone and demeanor that this exercise was something to be taken with sincerity. It wasn’t just a day off from school to mess around – this holiday had a deeper meaning.
As a result, it instilled in my brother and me a deep sense of patriotism. To the best of my knowledge we didn’t lose any family members to war, though many served. But the point was that it was a way to say thanks to men like my great uncle who was a SeaBee in World War II, or my dad who also served in the Navy, or my brother who became a proud Marine.
The lesson: making the effort to simply say “thank you” to those still living, as well as remember those who died defending our freedom, is important even if the gesture seems entirely too small in comparison to the gift.
Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered on Veterans Day, that day is set aside to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty.
To that end, I found a great blog that was started by some military wives called “101 Ways to Thank a Veteran.” Clever ideas for expressing our gratitude listed there include taking a cake or pie to anyone you know who is a veteran, supporting a military family through Operation Homefront, giving a military wife a gift certificate to a local spa, talking to your children and grandchildren about pride in our U.S. military and 97 other great ways. Find them at: http://militaryblog.militaryavenue.com/2009/11/101-ways-to-thank-veteran.html.
In our family, we have started a tradition of inviting members of the 1/1 Marines from Camp Pendleton to enjoy Thanksgiving, Easter or Christmas with us. It is a wonderful experience, and from what the guys have told us, it really means a lot to them. If you are interested in doing this yourself, contact Rick Anderson, 1/1 Family Readiness Officer at 760-763-3614 or [email protected].
As I finish writing this early on the morning of Nov. 10, it so happens that it is the 235th birthday of the Marine Corps. It also happens to be my birthday, and in celebration, I’ll be going to The Arches for lunch, where Dan Marcheano will be serving a buffet lunch free to all military. Patrons are encouraged to pitch in to offset costs, so my friends and I are going to support the effort as our way of saying thanks – even though Veterans Day is not until tomorrow. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate. And I am sure we’ll have a nice glass of champagne to toast my 29th birthday for the 18th time. I’ll report on the festivities in my column next week.
So even though Veterans Day was yesterday, challenge yourself today or any day really, to make the effort to thank a vet. You’ll make their day, and I can guarantee it will make yours.