Know Your Military Holiday-Veterans Day
Happy Veterans Day, South Potomac! This month we celebrate our nation’s veterans – old vets, new vets and everything in between. All of us who honorably wear the uniform are future veterans; many of us got the notion to put one on from a respected veteran in our life.
According to government statistics (the driest and therefore highest form of statistics), veterans comprise approximately 30 percent of the federal workforce. Around Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head and NSF Dahlgren, veterans are our coworkers, customers, managers and mentors. The thing that makes them veterans – service in our military in times of peace and war – is also a critical component to our ability to accomplish our missions. Veterans’ hard-won experience makes us better trainers, researchers, manufactures and more able to serve the needs of warfighters.
Clearly, these men and women deserve a national day of celebration in addition to our everyday gratitude. In the United States, Nov. 11 is the day… more on that in a moment. Veterans also receive a lot of deserved attention on two other military-themed holidays, Memorial Day and Armed Forces Day. However, the distinction between these holidays is important. In a nutshell, Armed Forces Day celebrates active duty service members, Veterans Day celebrates veterans and Memorial Day mourns the fallen.
Which brings me back to Nov. 11. This is a date that is not only important in United States history, but in world history as Armistice Day. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I ended. The so-called war to end all wars left scars across the world; it was up to that point in history the deadliest human conflict. America made a decisive impact on the war’s outcome when it joined after years of bloodletting among Europeans powers. While many Americans suffered and perished, an entire generation of young Germans, Frenchmen, Britons and others was gone. The social fabric of entire nations frayed in the wake of such heartbreaking loss.
Each western European nation involved in the war established a day of mourning for the fallen on or near Nov. 11 – Remembrance Day in France, Belgium and British Commonwealth nations, and Volkstrauertag (or ‘Peoples’ Mourning Day’) in Germany.
Here in America, Memorial Day already existed for this purpose because of a conflict that did more than fray our social fabric, but shredded it to pieces. The trauma of the American experience during the Civil War – its steep losses, grievous injuries and destructive force on the economy and landscape – is roughly comparable to the European experience during World War I.
President Woodrow Wilson marked Armistice Day instead by emphasizing its implications to world peace and honoring those who fought and died. And so for a few decades, Memorial Day and Armistice Day existed side-by-side, honoring the fallen of two separate conflicts and the veterans of one.
The meanings of the two related holidays evolved until a third national trauma, World War II, delineated the holidays further: in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed Veterans Day into law after years of lobbying by Alabama World War II veteran Raymond Weeks. The symbol of Armistice Day – the red poppy modeled on the flowers that sprang up in muddy No Man’s Land in World War I – survived the change in nomenclature and began its association with Veterans Day. I think that transition is entirely appropriate because veterans, like those poppies, are survivors after all.
Incidentally, there is often some confusion about the proper spelling of Veterans Day. It’s neither Veteran’s Day nor Veterans’ Day because it is not a day that veterans possess; rather, it’s a day to celebrate veterans.
In 1949, another effort established Armed Forces Day to honor active duty members of the military. The holiday, marked on the third Saturday in May, consolidates service-specific holidays like the Navy and Marine Corps birthdays. We’re still going to cut cake, to be sure, but Armed Forces Day gives civilians a chance to thank our active duty service members. When I think of Armed Forces Day, I think of things like airshows, parades and equipment displays… it’s really a shame that this holiday is a kind of stepchild to Memorial Day and Veterans Day, because it so perfectly completes America’s trifecta of military holidays. Some version of Armed Forces Day exists in just about every nation that has one.
So remember this: it’s always a good time to thank a vet but if you want to really impress one, know your military holidays. Celebrate them on Veterans Day, mourn with them on Memorial Day and if you’re brave enough to follow in their footsteps and wear the uniform, accept their hearty thanks and Bravo Zulus on Armed Force Day.