Remember the Vets

Did you know that Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day? I hopped over to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website and read up on the history of this very special day. According to the site, World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, but fighting had already ceased seven months earlier when an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars”.

A year later, in November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. The original concept was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m. But it wasn’t until 1938 that Armistice Day became a legal holiday. It was originally a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, the 83rd Congress amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

I often think about that, not just on this day, but often, and here’s why: My dad was born in 1930, so chances are very good he knew guys who were veterans of WWI. I remember as a pre-teen seeing the older guy who worked in the shop a few doors down from our family restaurant who was fitted with a rubber arm. As a kid, I didn’t really know what to think of that, but now I do. I have met and spent time with men and women who served in WWII. My dad was in the Army during the Korean Conflict. And of course mine is the Viet Nam generation. When I started doing news, I met two Vets who were volunteers at the local DAV office. They shared their personal stories with me – the reasons they were confined to wheel chairs and volunteered as they did. And more recently, I shared a hospital room with a vet who was confined to a wheel chair, and while I never did get a chance to speak to him, I did hear him on the phone with other vets, offering them comfort or counsel. I was able to read the writing on a bag that hung from the back of his wheelchair – Viet Nam. From WWI to Nam and now Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest, those veterans all shared something that those of us who never served can’t begin to comprehend. How many times have you heard or read something like this: We’ll never know the sacrifices they made for our freedom. Well believe it, because it’s true – we never will. So the very least we can do is appreciate what they’ve done and sacrificed.

I’d like to now share with you a true story. It was Sunday, November 11, and I had a little home repair project going on that day so I happened into my local warehouse store. Remember, this was November 11, but upon entering I was assailed by Christmas! Trees, decorations, lights, music – everywhere was Christmas. I’m an old-school guy, and for me, Christmas doesn’t happen until after Thanksgiving. That’s just how it is done. You had Thanksgiving on Thursday, Black Friday (don’t even get me started on that one!) and then on Saturday and Sunday, down came the boxes and up went the lights. But I understand that times are changing and that’s how I did things – perhaps the rest of the the world doesn’t think that way anymore. So I have tolerated merchants and marketers alike jamming Christmas down my throat for years and years immediately after Halloween. But on this particular November 11, I had enough. As I was checking out, I commented about all the Christmas stuff. The clerk was polite and nice enough, but just sort of shrugged as if to say, “what can you do?” The irony is that this particular home store sat on what was once a Marine Corp helicopter base. I took my Air Force recruitment test in a building on this very base (by the way, I ended up not enlisting, in case you were curious). At one time I even worked right across the street and marveled at the majesty of all those Super Stallions, CH43s and Hueys buzzing around. So on the heels of my Christmas comment, I looked at the clerk and said something like, “Ya know, today’s Veterans Day”, indicating shame on the store for jamming Christmas down our throats and not even acknowledging the veterans that stood on this very spot. He was sympathetic, but what could he do? Then after I had paid and was getting ready to head out, he said “Hey, do you want an American flag?” I thought about it for a split second, then said “For real?” To which he said yes, and gave me a nice, new, made in America, 3×5 American flag.

Now I should mention this is not my first or only American flag. I have several that have flown for many years. But I decided this one would stay with me, not just as a reminder of the story of how I got it, but also as a reminder of how people can so easily forget the important days. So I carry it with me in the car (properly folded) wherever I go. In the time that has passed since receiving this flag, I have flown it proudly on every appropriate remembrance and holiday. I even used that very flag to train groups of people how to display, fold, and properly care for our flag. I am grateful to the clerk who gave it to me, but I am much more grateful for the opportunity to have it, to teach others about it, to be able to carry it with me wherever I go. But most importantly, I am grateful for the people and moments in time that flag represents. So for me, Christmas stays packed away until after Thanksgiving. And on November 11, as I always do, I will remind everyone that this day is reserved for Veterans, and I hope you’ll do the same.