Friday, November 10, 2006


(Nwes-Herald, November 9)This year there’s no excuse.
Veteran’s Day is an unusual civic holiday because it comes attached to a particular date, instead of a particular weekend. So mostly it falls in the middle of ordinary workaday stuff. That, as it turns out, is no accident.
It started, of course, as Armistice Day. In 1919, the President declared a holiday on the 11th. In 1920, he called for Armistice Sunday. In 1921 it was an un-named holiday marked by the burial of an unknown veteran of The Great War in Arlington National Ceremony. Similar ceremonies were held by other Great War allies, scheduled to commemorate the end of fighting in 1918 on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
In 1926 Congress officially named it Armistice Day and then, in 1938, they made a holiday out of it. That was just before war broke out in Europe and the war that Armistice Day commemorated, the Great War, the War to End All Wars, acquired its roman numeral.
Ike officially changed the name to Veterans Day in 1954. And effective 1971, Congress attempted to change the holiday to “the fourth Monday in October.” But an unusual and amazing thing happened—Americans largely nixed the chance for a government-sanctioned three-day weekend, and opted to keep Veterans Day on its traditional date. States opted to hold the observance on the 11th. By 1975, only for states followed the “fourth Monday” rule. In 1978, Congress put the holiday back where Americans said it belongs.
Veterans Day suffers from an unfortunate tendency to be mixed up with Memorial Day. Memorial Day, intended to honor those soldiers who have passed away, is often generalized to make mention of all soldiers past and present. It’s a nice thought, but it renders Veterans Day a bit redundant. It can also deliver the unfortunate and unintended message that live veterans aren’t that different from dead soldiers.
Veterans are a special breed, and never more so than in the 20th century. Up until then, a man’s military service became part of who he was. A military rank was important enough that it became a permanent part of a man’s name; it had enough status that some men added an unearned military title just to give themselves some more clout.
But with WWI, we see a new era in military service. We have repeatedly asked men to travel around the world, risk their lives, and learn how to act outside the boundaries of regular civilized behavior. Then after we have asked them to leave home and family, risking life and limb and spirit, we ask them to come home and behave as if it never happened.
America has always depended upon citizen-soldiers. But in an earlier time, we counted both equally as part of a veteran’s identity. In modern times, we expect the citizen to dominate. Most of us know veterans, but often if we were asked to describe those people, we would call them “teacher” or “doctor” or “musician” or “neighbor “ and their military service would appear way down the list.
My point is this. We haven’t just asked veterans to leave home and family behind to risk life, limb and spirit. We haven’t just asked them to endure hard training to learn skills that they will never use in civilian life. We have also asked them to come home when it was all over and behave as if those years were spent doing nothing more exceptional than mowing the lawn or studying accounting.
We owe them. Even if we disagree with the causes that sent them abroad, even if military service never put them in harm’s way. Nobody enters military service thinking, “Maybe this will make me rich and famous.” Military service, voluntary or drafted, is service to the rest of the citizens of this country, and even if we disagree with the situation in which it is given, we can and must respect the spirit and sacrifice involved.
If you see a veteran Saturday, thank him (or her). You still have time to drop a note in the mail to a vet.
And the Oil City VFW and American Legion are throwing a parade. At 10 o’clock on Saturday morning it will step off from the VFW post, march across the Center Street Bridge and end in Justus Park, where there will be an 11 o’clock ceremony. The Venango Vets Honor Guard and the Oil City High School Band will be included.
The very least we can do on the 11th is pause at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour and remember. It would take only a little more effort to stop by Oil City to attend the parade and ceremony.
This year it will be Saturday. We have no excuse.

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