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.