I want to first say I may be somewhat prejudiced on this particular topic. I entered the United States Air Force in November 1968, in the height of the Vietnam conflict. I remained on active duty and retired in 1989. I was no different from any other citizens during these 21 years of service. There were highs, lows and some really mundane duties; however, in retrospect, neither I nor my wife would trade those years for anything else. I still feel honored to have served.
As a serviceman I learned that on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 an armistice between Germany and the Allied nations came into effect. On November 11, 1919, Armistice Day was commemorated for the first time. President Wilson proclaimed the day should be “filled with solemn pride…and with gratitude for the victory”.
In 1938 Congress enacted a bill identifying November 11 as Armistice Day. In 1954, following World War II and the Korean conflict Congress renamed Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Several countries still celebrate Armistice Day in the Month of November.
In Britain, it is tradition to pause for a two minute silence at 11am on November 11 to remember those killed in the two world wars and the British servicemen killed or injured since 1945. While living in England, I participated in several Armistice Day ceremonies. They were mostly conducted in the village chapel beginning with two-minutes of silence at 11 am, followed by a prayerful and reverent ceremony. Everyone wore small hand-made poppies. A war poem, In Flanders Field, refer to poppies flying over graves of fallen soldiers on churned up battlefields. Moved by this poem a campaign was started to sell hand-made poppies in an effort to raise money for injured servicemen. These poppies were looked upon as a living tribute to the fallen soldiers. The American Legion brought this campaign to the United States, and today these poppies can be purchased here in the United States outside many large department stores just before Veterans Day.
In November 2011 my wife and I took a vacation to Hawaii. On Veterans Day we visited the U.S.S Missouri, before heading out to Pearl Harbor to visit the U.S.S. Arizona. The Memorial Park arranged for 4 U.S.S. Arizona survivors to visit and talk with the visitors. This particular day we visited the battle area that brought the United States into a war with Japan and then on the Missouri we visited the deck where Japan surrendered. What can I say, to a veteran this was a moving experience that will last a lifetime.
So what does Veterans Day mean to you? I can proudly say that I look at Veterans Day with honor to have served and reflect on the many people who served before me, with me and after me, to bring about a better world. While Memorial Day is the period where we honor the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have given the ultimate sacrifice, Veterans Day is to honor all people who have served, living and dead.
I have been thanked by many people for my service and I truly mean it when I say, “I was honored and privileged to serve.” I would do it again if I could.
So, this November when you see the American Legion outside Walmart or Sam’s Club give a contribution, accept the poppy and wear it proudly. Remember, the freedoms we espouse daily are a result of our veteran’s sacrifice.
Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.