Friday, November 11, 2011

11 11 18

     Happy Veterans Day!
    I know most of you are expecting typical Penwasser wise-guy.  Most of the time I oblige because there’s a lot of the ludicrous in our lives (if you think I’m wrong, just remember that someone elected Anthony Weiner).  But, when it comes to the eleventh day of the eleventh month, not so much.
    So, this one time, no wisecracks, no innuendos, no witty asides.  In a break from my usual “shtick,” I’m going to play it straight and briefly speak on the significance of November 11th.
    On November 11th, 1918, the Germans surrendered to the Allied powers in the Forest of Compiegne, thus ending what was then known as the Great War.  Little did they know there would be a sequel nearly 21 years later, but that’s another story.
    The following November, President Woodrow Wilson declared that “Armistice Day” would henceforth be observed in honor of those who had fallen during the “war to end all wars” (didn’t do too well with THAT one, did we?).
    Following the Second World War (the “good” war, an oxymoron if I ever heard one), the town of Emporia, Kansas changed “Armistice” to “Veterans” Day.  The idea was to honor everyone who had served in the armed forces rather than only those who’d fought against the Kaiser.
    As the years went by, the idea of setting a special day aside for veterans slowly took hold throughout the nation.  In 1954, Congress made the name change official while President Eisenhower called on all Americans to observe the day.  But, surprisingly, it took until 1971 for Richard Nixon to declare it an official federal holiday.
    In the years since, we’ve seen it become little more than an excuse to hold blowout sales on everything from bed linen to used cars (“Buy this Chevy because Patton would have wanted you to.”).  Ceremonies marking the day have been lost in the madcap frenzy of pre-Christmas commercialism.  In fact, what was once a universal day off has turned into pretty much a “federal government employees only” respite.
    I don’t have a problem with this, per se, if it was still recognized for the solemn event that it is.  After all, Veterans Day is much more than sleeping in late and watching Sponge Bob Squarepants in your pajamas while wolfing down a bowl of “Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.”
    Unfortunately, many people don’t even know what Veterans Day is all about.  While at work last November 11th, I was flabbergasted when the morning announcements proclaimed Veterans Day merely as a “day to recognize older people who had a lot of experience.”
    What!?  Now, I don’t wish to denigrate Grandpa’s fly-fishing prowess and, boy howdy, ain’t it cool that Great-Aunt Tilly can knit a quilt with her feet, but c’mon!  Since when is bowling a perfect game the same as convoy duty in Iraq?  Quick answer-it’s not.
    As a result, I spent the balance of the day quizzing my coworkers on whether they knew what put the “veteran” in Veterans Day.  Sadly, I was depressed by their appalling lack of knowledge, as very few of them actually understood what all the fuss was about.  But, you can bet your bottom dollar they knew who the frontrunner was on “Dancing With the Stars,” that’s for sure!
    Shocking as it was, you know they weren’t the only ones who had no clue that the 11th of November was different than any other day.  It goes without saying there’s a need to set a few things straight. 
    So, I call on all of us who know better to teach others about Veterans Day.  Urge those around you to take a moment to remember our veterans and those who are still in harm’s way.
    You don’t have to go to a flag-raising ceremony, attend a parade, or even buy one of those “Buddy Poppies” (although I do, because I enjoy talking to those guys).  You don’t have to agree on this war or that war and you certainly don’t have to watch The Sands of Iwo Jima at attention.
    If nothing else, reflect on the service of all those who have worn, and continue to wear, our nation’s uniform.  From Lexington to Kabul, they deserve our respect and our thanks.
    As a veteran myself, I salute them all.

Addendum:  And that also goes for those who aren't just American veterans, either.


  1. Excellent post, and all so very true. Never forget the sacrifices these brave men made for us, never. Over here we wear poppies with pride today because we know without these brave veterans we wouldn't have the privileges we do every day.

  2. In Canada today is Rememberance Day and we remember the people who lost their lives in WW1&2. At eleven am most people observe a minute of silence to think on the matter. We use to do it all the time in school (elementry school to high school) I don't know if it is still done cause I have been out of school for a decade.

  3. Thanks for this post, Al. And thanks for your service.

    The school system here started having Veteran's Day assemblies because the kids had no idea why it was a holiday. They invite veterans and generally have a performance. My daughter was on her way this morning to play violin with her school band and chorus.

  4. Yeah up here with Berserk as well, but no matter the place never should forget, as none of us would living the kind of life we are used to today.

  5. My act of remembrance was to read With The Old Breed by E.B. Sledge. A grim classic.

  6. What a great post. You do the day credit. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this day.

  7. Excellent post, Al. I'm going to share this on my FaceBook page and also send out a tweet about it. I watched To Hell and Back last night. And I'll spend this day reflecting on our veterans and all they've done for us. Happy Veterans Day to you!

  8. Nice little history lesson. Thanks again for serving in the military, Al.

  9. We don't have a national holiday here today.

    But maybe for that reason it gets more honour, since most employers and schools will respect the two minutes silence. Where it a national day off I suspect some would be too bus enjoying that to remember why.

    Last year there was uproar when muslim protesters burned a poppy (in the UK the poppy is the symbol for the day) during the silence. The effect of that was, I think, to actually re-raise awareness in a good way since there seems to be a bit more 'noise' about it this year.
    We had a fiasco a few days ago when FIFA refused to let the England football team have poppys on their shirts. Long story - google it - but essentially prince william intervened so so now they are.
    Looks like we may actually have an effective king when his time comes.

  10. *were

    and ignore the second 'so'

    fuck sake.

  11. @Yeamie: This was the first year I didn't see anyone from the VFW selling poppies. Not only do I like wearing them, I really like talking to those guys.
    @Bersercules: That's right! I remember serving with a Canadian officer in Iceland who told me all about it. I learned a lot from him, including what Canadian Thanksgiving is all about (No kidding) and how to make "moose milk" (two drinks and you lose the power of speech).
    @laughingmom: Some of the schools in our district have the same type of assemblies. I think it's great to remind the kids what the day is all about. Every Veterans Day (and Memorial Day), I give my kids a little quiz. It's funny-they know it's coming. I just got a call from my son who is at Virginia Tech. He said one of his professors explained what the day was all about to his classes. My son thought (correctly) that I would like that.
    @Pat: I also want people to know that it's not just Americans who are veterans, either.
    @Gorilla: I'm going to check that one out. Thanks.
    @Eva: Thank you for that. I mean that sincerely.
    @Lyn: Please do. Thank you!
    @Sub-Radar Mike: I hope it wasn't too gawdawful dry of a history lesson. I just think it's important.

  12. @dirty: The poppy is a pretty big deal here, too. I agree with it not being a day off for everyone. I honestly think the schools are the perfect place to raise awareness.
    @dbs: Thank you!

  13. In my town, to get a poppy you need to go to the post office. I guess it's always been that way.
    My family is full of veterans, both by blood and by marriage. I remember when I was in elementary having a rally with servicemen. Now, it doesn't get mentioned, hardly. The middle school here does this thing where the students can bring in photos of veterans and they get mentioned. But the high school doesn't do anything and elementary never did either.

  14. The vets handed out poppies at the Wawa. It's a convenience store, like 7-11s. Don't know if any of those are in Nebraska...? While my family isn't full of veterans, there's been a Penwasser in uniform since World War II. My cousin retires from the Navy next year after 30 years (he may stay in, pending a promotion), but his son is in NROTC at NC State. So, I guess we're good to go for a little longer.

  15. Nebraska, Iowa.....jeez, I am SUCH an Eastern snob!!!! Sorry!!!!!

  16. Well, we both do have a lot of corn.
    It's all good!

  17. I salute you and thank you for your service, Al.

    Grateful that you made it through intact. Well, mostly;)

    On a serious note, we remember the brave once a year, but forget them when they come home injured and broken. It bothers me.

  18. It REALLY bothers me, too. Yet we can fixate on Hollywood dopes and who's left on 'Dancing With the Stars.'
    I came through it relatively unscathed (physically, at least).
    I do have one "battle" scar, though. When I was 19, I got whacked in the nose by a grease pan wielding behemoth. I received 21 stitches to my schnoz. The good thing is that, since this happened on July 10th, I got the next day off from work (which was my birthday). Of course, the downside is that I spent it in ship's medical.
    If you look real close, you may be able to see the scar across the bridge of my beak (1979 onward).

  19. Al - that was an excellent post. Thank you.

    Your addendum added a touch of compassion and respect - I honour the fallen on this day, here in Canada, known as Remembrance Day, and also in May on International Memorial Day.

    I remember having a Remembrance Day ceremony in school, before it became a day off for gov't workers - we really knew the meaning of this day and often had veterans, both male and female, come share their stories.

    Your post hit the mark. Thanks for your contribution Al, as a veteran and as a blogger.


  20. Thanks, Jenny. I really think a lot of people tend to forget the contributions of ALL veterans to what we enjoy now. I've had the privilege to work with some outstanding foreign military personnel ("foreign" to me. Tomaytoe-Tomahtoe, huh? :-) ). One of the finest was a Canadian officer named Major Andre Gloumeau (that's his real name). We served together in Iceland (and not once did he say "eh"). He was a gentleman and a professional. As I'm sure he still is.

  21. Well said. I was born when Hoover was president. Reason I still refer to it as Armistice Day. (Like my grandmother referring to anything that played music as a victrola.). Thank you for serving your country and for setting the record straight for those who were skipping history classes.

  22. i have a new blog please follow :)

  23. That Hoover. I LOVED his vacuum cleaners! Didn't do too well with that whole Depression thing, though.

  24. Great post Al. Now that you mention it I had forgotten about the poppies. Used to be vets were selling them this time of year, but in past couple years not so.
    Don't get mad Al but there is a war veteran on DWTS and he's a GREAT person, name is Martinez. Also is a great dancer, but he's a vet so be nice.

  25. Glad to see that your son has enough sense (in spite of genetics) to attend a proper "university" in the best state in the country.

  26. @anthony: I don't watch DWTS so I didn't know that. Thats pretty cool! I wonder about the poppies. I'm gonna ask.
    @laughingmom: I agree on both counts! He fell in love with the place the first time we took a tour there. Now he's proud to be a Hokie.

  27. This is a wonderful post and tribute, Al. Thank you for it and, moreover, for defending our freedoms.