by Ed Mattson
What is it about November 11…mmmm…hey, that’s a holiday…maybe I don’t have to go to work or school today; banks and government office will probably be closed…I can sleep in.
That’s what many Americans think about Veteran’s Day today. Many never even give it a second thought. Veteran’s Day doesn’t always fall on the 11th. If the 11th is a Sunday, Veteran’s Day will be recognized on the following Monday, but most have forgotten what it’s all about.
Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11 each year, originally in commemoration of the armistice of World War I. When most of us were young our parents taught us what Veteran’s Day was all about. It marked the end of World War I and was always a solemn day to all Americans who had just come through World War II, because the First World War was to have been “The War to End All Wars” .
World War I was a war without parallel – all previous wars were eclipsed by its scale of destruction as a struggle between Europe’s great powers, and eventually included the United States at a cost of more than 100,000 American troops who were killed in the effort to help secure an allied victory. The War to End All Wars only set the stage for the Second World War. With the close of WW II, we now had, after four more years of killing, finally managed to put an end to tyranny and senseless death for all time.
With the close of World War II and the total destruction of Japan, much of China, the Pacific Islands, and most all of Europe, the massive rebuilding effort would surely make nations stop and think before starting any further wars. For all Americans we showed we were a force with which to be reckoned and through the sorrow and loss we needed to honor and thank all military personnel who served and kept the world from complete annihilation; particularly living veterans. For the following two decades after WWII, Veteran’s Day was truly a day of remembrance marked by parades and church services and in many places the American flag was hung at half mast. Often during the day there would be a period of silence lasting two minutes. Schools and government offices were closed and there were always special assemblies or other activities, including small town parades and patriotic concerts.
Then with the advent of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the world looked on and had to be thinking, “we haven’t learned a damn thing, have we?” The first half of the century was marked by such catastrophic wars that more than half the cities around the globe had to be rebuilt; tens of millions of lives lost, and at any moment we could again be embroiled in another war where “mutual destruction of all” would be assured through the use of nuclear weapons…and it all had to be laid at the doorstep of the politicians who just couldn’t see the error of their ways.
Just how we lost our way is symbolic with everything else today…”gradualism”, not revolution; stealing from our country, the greatness we once had. It seems every year there are those who tear down the fiber of what our parents held true; the value of “one nation under God”, pride in our flag, the “Pledge of Allegiance”, the “National Anthem”, protecting our national borders, honesty, truth, justice, and integrity. Today those are just words without much meaning, particularly to those who hold political office. Scandals seem to occur on an almost regular basis; corruption and political cronyism, and those in power seeking a permanency in their ability to keep in power through doling out largess of the public treasury with total disregard to the well-being of the taxpayer. It happens so gradually, it is hardly recognized for what it is – an invasion and destruction of our national sovereignty.
There may be a day, as many who wish to subvert the United States would relish, that there would be no Veteran’s Day, taking away all the values Americans hold dear. It may seem impossible, but then again who would have ever thought we would see lawsuits to prohibit flying the US flag over American soil, eliminating “In God We Trust” from the American political scene, or lawsuits against out states BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT no less, from protecting our borders from an influx of illegal aliens. We must remember our past or we are doomed to repeat it.
In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed we needed a day to be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory”. In 1926, the United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I and declared that the anniversary of the armistice should be commemorated with prayer and thanksgiving.
On May 13, 1938, Congress enacted “52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a” which made November 11 in each year a legal holiday, known as Armistice Day. In 1954, the Veterans service organizations urged Congress to change the word “Armistice” to “Veterans”. Congress approved this change and on June 1, 1954, November 11 became a day to honor all American veterans, where ever and whenever they had served.
In 1968 the Uniforms Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) made an attempt to move Veterans Day to the fourth Monday of October. The bill took effect in 1971. However, this caused a lot of confusion as many states disagreed with this decision and continued to hold Veterans Day activities on November 11. In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which stated that Veterans Day would again be observed on November 11 from 1978 onwards. Veterans Day is still observed on November 11.
And on November 11, 2012, how many more Americans will simply go about the day, forgetting what has guaranteed the freedom they enjoy, the opportunity to achieve greatness and prosperity that cannot be found anywhere else on earth, and the freedom to practice whatever religious beliefs one chooses?
I, like my fellow Veterans, can feel the knife in the back driven by those who are tearing down America. It is not without reason that many veterans feel our politicians in Washington are playing fast and loose with the lives of our military personnel having become the policeman of the world. We did nothing to stop Pol Pot from murdering his own people. Europe sat around on their thumbs when ethnic cleansing erupted in Kosovo; when Saddam gassed hundreds of thousands of Kurds we all watched; but when action does finally happen, it is American lives that are first to come to the aid of the victims. Yet in Darfur, where the tyranny and slaughter is just as bad, we fail to act, making it look as if we are selective in how much chaos we will allow.
I am one who believes that, as so aptly put by Sir Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”, but I also believe in the great Chinese Proverb. “If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime; for is it not better to teach someone how to do something than to do it for them. Giving someone a fish is good for the short term, but it is better to teach them how to do it so that in the long term they can take care of themselves”. Has there ever been a more appropriate statement about American protectionism?
The United States has put itself in such a precarious position, that everybody else waits around for us to come to the rescue when national borders are threatened (the exception to that rules has been Libya). Some nations have even become so dependent on US protection, they won’t even protect themselves…this is all wrong!
As President Lyndon Johnson was fond of saying, “My fellow Americans”, we are at a crossroads in history. Have we reached a point in time where we are going to continue to sit ideally by why our country slips into oblivion? Surely we recognize what I have stated above is true by any reasonable standard of measurement. Veterans Day is the perfect day to remember what most Veterans will never forget when we took our oath to protect America from all enemies both foreign and domestic, that now is the time we either put-up or shut-up about the current status quo.
A friend of mine named Paul Schneeberger (yes, I really do have “friends), is someone all Americans need to know. Paul had become involved in military and veterans issues after interviewing some Gold Star Mothers for a film project. (A Gold Star Mother is a mother who has lost a child in battle.) And so, without any personal connection to the military or its families, Paul took up the cause of remembering our great military and veterans on both Veteran’s day and Memorial Day.
Like myself, and perhaps it was Paul who really made me think about it, he recognized the complete disconnect between the American public, our military, and the lack of a shared sense of service or responsibility of our citizens, when it comes to the defense of our country. Paul and I hit it off at the get-go because, as I stated above, the fading memories of World War II and Veterans Day, despite the continuation of wars from Korea to Vietnam, from Granada to Kuwait, and from Afghanistan to Iraq, the American public has become so ambivalent to the Veteran, Veteran’s Day has lost its meaning. Only a small percent of our country is involved in the current Middle East wars. Everyone else is struggling with other issues like the economy, finding a job, protesting Wall Street, and condemning everything that made American great. Gradualism has finally become center-stage.
Many Americans have forgotten about the Veteran and the military families that are being asked to give more than their fair share and stretched beyond human endurance by multiple deployments, injuries, broken marriages, and unseen wounds like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). It seems like even our government tends to forget the real sacrifice our military continues to make as month after month there are battles waging in the courts, on Capitol Hill, and in the halls of the Veterans Administration, and in the press, about Agent Orange benefits, cuts in Veterans’ benefits, and other issues near and dear to the military, past and present, and their families.
Paul has embarked upon a campaign appropriately named “Beyond Tribute” (www.beyondtribute.org), to restore the meaning of Veterans Day and Memorial Day. It’s more than simply tying a ribbon around a tree, or hanging a flag on your porch. These are tough economic times and money is scarce, we all recognize that, so how can we re-instill the spirit of Veteran’s Day? The fun way would be to spend Memorial Day 2011 Weekend (Friday, May 27—Monday, May 30) at a Six Flags Amusement Park which is partnering with Paul’s BEYOND TRIBUTE to transform the entire Memorial weekend into being with family and friends. Along with half-price admissions promotions to 12 of its parks around the around the country, one dollar from each sale will be go directly to the most effective veterans service organizations helping our veterans today.
If you are like many others and can’t muster the money to take the family to a Six Flags, you can make a small donation on the Beyond Tribute website above. You can also take a few minutes and explain to your children the meaning of Veteran’s Day, let them read what I have written; say a prayer for peace, the protection of our warriors, and the end to hostilities; and of course, that our country once again rises to the level of excellent and victory over those who would seek to destroy all that we hold sacred.
God Bless America and Semper Fi!
Following his service in the Marine Corps Ed Mattson built a diverse career in business in both sales/marketing and management. He is a medical research specialist and published author. His latest book is Down on Main Street: Searching for American Exceptionalism
Ed is currently Development Director of the National Guard Bureau of International Affairs-State Partnership Program, Fundraising Coordinator for the Warrior2Citizen Project, and Managing Partner of Center-Point Consultants in North Carolina.
Mr. Mattson is a noted speaker and has addressed more than 3000 audiences in 42 states and 5 foreign countries. He has been awarded the Order of the Sword by American Cancer Society, is a Rotarian Paul Harris Fellow and appeared on more than 15 radio and television talk-shows.