“Thank You for your service.” That is a common refrain we hear not only at this time of year but all year long when we meet someone and they recognize our military service.
Origins of Veterans Day
Unlike Memorial Day, on which we pause to remember the men and women that sacrificed all for the freedoms we enjoy today, Veterans Day is a day for all vets to be recognized and celebrated regardless of the era that they served in or how long their service lasted.
Veterans Day traces its origins to the end of WWI. The fighting in WWI ended when the Entente and Germany put into effect an armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, was largely considered the end of “the war to end all wars” and dubbed Armistice Day. In 1926, Congress officially recognized it as such. In 1938, it became an official holiday, primarily to honor veterans of World War I.
On June 1, 1954, at the urging of veterans service organizations, Congress amended the commemoration yet again by changing the word “armistice” to “veterans” so the day would honor American veterans of all wars.
The Continued Importance of Our Military Service
The one underlying element in our service to the nation is the impact and importance of military service on us and how it has impacted the rest of our lives, in some cases many decades after our military service had ended.
Several years ago, I was at a gun show. A couple of WWII veterans from Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (on which Band of Brothers is based) were also in attendance.
One of the vets talked about his experiences from their training in Toccoa, Georgia to the end of World War II and taking the Eagles’ Nest, Hitler’s home in the Alps.
He said that his entire service lasted just under four years but that four-year window was packed so full of intense experiences, both good and bad, that it dominated the remainder of his life. He said that his service was only about 1/20th of his life, (he was approaching 80-years old at the time), but it was by far the most important part of his life: It affected the way he lived his life from that point on.
On Veterans Day, we all recognize and celebrate the different experiences that all of our veterans have had. Back when I lived in Massachusetts, we had a local Veterans Council that was comprised of veterans from the local VFW, American Legion, and just vets from the community that chose to be unaffiliated with any organization. Through the council, they could join in and take part in several events that the town would put on for the veterans’ community.
One of our highlights were the bi-annual visits to the town’s schools on Veterans Day. Besides the traditional programs that the schools would conduct, they would split the veterans up into two-person teams. The vets would tell the students about their own service, and then after a few minutes, the next group would file in and give their own stories. It was great to see the kids get so much more involved in asking questions. It gave them a better appreciation and understanding of what military service entailed.
Our council had a tremendous sprinkling of service from WWII right through to the Global War on Terror, and included both men and women.
Our eldest member was a rear gunner on a dive bomber in the Pacific. He had fought on Iwo Jima and later had taken part in the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. Another was an infantryman in Europe who had fought in the Battle of the Bulge. A few years ago, the French ambassador awarded him and a few other local vets.
We had a couple of combat vets from Korea. One of whom told the students that he cried when he saw the Golden Gate Bridge from his troopship. He said the combat he experienced during the Korean War was so bloody, that he never believed he’d make it home alive. Another Korean War era vet was drafted but spent his entire time in Germany and felt guilty about not going “with the boys to Korea.”
Two combat infantrymen from Vietnam had many different experiences. One was stationed in the southern part of Vietnam where the terrain was more wet and flooded. The other spent two tours with the 101st and 173rd Airborne in the north. A few others served in Afghanistan and Iraq. These were just a few of the dozens who filled out our ranks.
Our service was as varied as the backgrounds that we grew up in. After our service, some vets went into local politics; some became school teachers or entered the business world. All served; all were worthy; and we all bonded.
The prevailing attitude among all of our veterans was how much our military service had impacted our lives, regardless of how long our terms of service were.
Share your own service in our comments section if you care to, and be sure to thank a veteran for their service on Veterans Day. It will be greatly appreciated.