This will be one of my briefest articles, but a couple of things have compelled me to write about service, sacrifice and the luxury of choice. First and foremost on my mind is the upcoming Veterans Day, a national tradition dating back to November 11th, 1918. The end of the “War to end all Wars”, marked by a cessation of hostilities between German and Allied forces, was put into force on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” When President Wilson declared Armistice Day to be observed beginning in 1919, his intent was to have nationwide parades and events at 11AM on November 11th. The Congress eventually formalized Veterans Day in 1938, when it was declared that this date would be a time to honor American veterans of all wars. There was a time in the 60’s when there was a push for the big Federal Holidays (Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day) to occur on Mondays, allowing for three-day weekends to encourage “travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production,” but it was confusing and in the end Veterans Day moved back to November 11th in 1978. I don’t know if Wikipedia is the final authoritative source on Veterans Day, but according to Wiki, the purpose of Veterans Day as we now celebrate it is to “honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
While many veterans who served before 1973 may have been drafted and therefore not necessarily “volunteers” they still certainly sacrificed much in service to America. And many indeed volunteered to serve, even during the period when the draft was in effect. Since 1973 we have been an all-volunteer force and except for a few lean years, the Services haven’t had much trouble in filling enlistment quotas. I marvel at the extraordinary sacrifices our active duty, guard and reserve men and women in uniform make every day: risk to life in conflicts, separation from family and friends, careers put on hold, dangers at work, and countless others sacrifices that only they know. So I am proud to be among their number, although I am mindful that many have sacrificed so much more than I. They will be on my mind this upcoming Veterans Day. If you are looking for a way to honor those who have sacrificed much, there are many options….go to a Parade, give a homeless vet food and shelter, donate to a veteran-focused charity, etc. But for me, please don’t say “Thank you for your service.” As far as I’m concerned that’s a mindless phrase, a cop-out which allows one to feel good without having to commit anything. It’s expected and akin to saying “Bless You” after a sneeze. They are words spoken without commitment or consciousness by many who utter them. I would much rather hear, “I never served, but as a way of showing my gratitude for those who did, I work with homeless veterans at the local shelter”, or maybe, “Where did you serve and what did you do?” That shows interest not a clever, trendy reflex. And I would be OK with a “Thank you for your commitment America. I am grateful for your service.” At least put some thought and feeling in it!
I said I was going to be brief, so I better wrap up..The other event on my mind was the recent election of Representative Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House. I certainly wouldn’t want that job. But I was struck with his “demands” and how they contrast with the service our veterans rendered to our nation. They didn’t get an opportunity to bargain for weekends off to be with family or to say “I will serve, but only in CONUS.” Seems to me that he’s only going to be Speaker for a few years (probably less time than the average enlistment contract), so suck it up! Remember all those who don’t get a chance to spend weekends with their families while being shot at……a far cry from dangerous caucuses or risky debates in the halls of Congress. So it must be nice to have the luxury of choice and get credit for service without too much sacrifice as so many on the Hill are wont to do. I guess that explains why there is no “Congress Day” on our national calendar.
Here’s a way to honor our Veterans this year. Attend the Navy Safe Harbor Foundation Veterans Day luncheon at the Army Navy Country Club at the 11th Hour of the 11 Day of the 11th month: Click here to register.