Let’s a take a moment and remind ourselves about why there is a Veterans Day.
It began in 1938 as Armistice Day, referencing Germany’s surrender at the end of World War I (the “war to end all wars”) at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. This was before America’s involvement in the cataclysm of World War II.
Efforts were made to create a holiday in 1945 in order to remember all veterans, not just those who had served in World War I. Congress in 1954 changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day, with President Eisenhower’s strong support (a veteran himself).
In 1971, through legislation blandly named the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Congress moved Veterans Day to the 4th Monday of October in order to create a 3-day holiday weekend. It was moved back to its current November 11th date in 1978. The way it has unfolded as a 3-day holiday weekend, many Americans have forgotten the holiday’s true significance.
Veterans Day and Memorial Day are the only two holidays during which America officially honors those who have served in the armed forces and those who have died in military service. However, every day should be a day for us to remember not only those who over the years and generations have served our country, but also those who are doing so right now. This is no more poignant than as America is still engaged in military actions of all kinds and has many troops and ships stationed around the world in places familiar and unfamiliar, friendly and unfriendly, near and far.
Our veterans and soldiers may not ask for recognition. We may know little about what they have done and are doing as we focus on our own busy lives. But, such does not diminish the immense gratitude we owe them. Whether or not we agree with military policies or spending, we all agree that we must support the men and women in uniform who voluntarily stand on sentry (there is no mandatory draft, after all) to protect us from those who continuously intend us harm – 9/11 and the ongoing security threats not being forgotten.
Think about how precious our liberty is and how many people elsewhere do not have it. We are free to vote in elections, as evidenced by the elections just held in towns through Connecticut. When there are differences among us, Americans do not settle things through military coups d’etat, but rather by the courts adjudicating the rule of law and by people seeking proper changes in the laws through the legislative process.
We enjoy the freedoms to express our individual religious beliefs, to speak our minds, and to gather with others in places of our own choosing. How often we take for granted the rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. As world history and even U.S. history have shown – and current world events remind us every day – such freedoms do not exist by themselves. They require people to defend them at all times. Until there is a day that we can truly and realistically beat all swords into plowshares, then our country must make both swords and plowshares. We must invest smartly in our military and we must think wisely and carefully before we put American soldiers and sailors in harm’s way. Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President, spoke very well when he said, “speak softly but carry a big stick”.
Memorial Day is more than just a sole reminder of the high cost liberty and security exact. It is also a reminder that a civil society is neither civil nor a society if there are only some rights for some people some of the time. We all must do our part to keep strong all of our rights and liberties for all citizens all of the time.
My own words do not dare come anywhere near the eloquence of the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, when in 1863 at the Gettysburg battlefield he said, “we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.
For those veterans who are passed on – you are remembered. For those veterans who are among us and for those who are serving now – thank you.
Dr. Jeffrey A. Gordon is Chairman of Woodstock’s Planning and Zoning Commission. This article neither reflects any official statement of nor any specific work being done by the Commission. Check out www.JeffreyGordon.com.