Tag Archive | "Veterans Day"

Reflections on Veterans Day

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This year, the 93rd annual remembrance of Veterans Day falls on November 11th, 2011, a date otherwise written as 11/11/11.  The recurring elevens are more than historically correct; they are poignant.  They mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns of World War I fell silent, for that was the moment that the war ended.


Ninety-three years ago, World War I was called “the war to end all wars.”  But those who’d coined that phrase had no way of knowing that WWI was but the prelude of many wars to follow.  To this day, mankind has not learned to solve his problems with reason rather than violence.  To this day, people still try to rob us of our inalienable freedoms; to protect those freedoms and the freedoms of others, we still march into war.  We still lose and mourn loved ones fallen in the armed services.  Leaving their indelible marks upon us all, each war is commemorated by its own mottos, music, and memories.


Some of the World War I’s mottos were, “40 and Eight” (40 men and eight horses to a boxcar), “Over the Top” (a reference to trench warfare), and “The Yanks are Coming.”  These mottos have all but passed into time.  But like certain scents, music has the power to transport us back in time, recalling memories as sharp as the day they were made.   Some of the music from World War I that has endured is George Cohan’s “Over There” as well as tunes from the 1917 musical production, “Yip Yip Yaphank.”


Today, the veterans of World War II are rapidly following in the footsteps of their First World War comrades in arms.  We will be followed by those who fought bravely in the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraqi wars.


America is undergoing dramatic change in the new millennium; our nation’s glorious past is fading into the pages of an ancient history book.  Veterans Day, therefore, should be a time for reflection, a time for our nation to determine the direction it wants to take going forward.  The price of our freedom has been paid for in the blood, sweat, and tears of the forefathers that established this great new nation in 1776, and in that of those who followed.


As I reflect upon the past, I would like to share a poem written by an unknown author.  May it stir the conscience of our readers as they reflect upon this Veterans Day 2011.


A Soldier Died Today

(Author Unknown)

 

He’s getting old and paunchy

and his hair is falling fast.

As he sits around the Legion

telling stories of the past.

 

Of a war that he once fought in

and the deeds that he had done

in his exploits with his buddies.

They were heroes, every one.

 

And sometimes, to his neighbors,

his tales became a joke.

While his buddies listened quietly,

for they knew of whence he spoke.

 

But we’ll hear his tales no longer,

for he has passed away.

And the world’s a little poorer,

For a soldier died today.

 

He won’t be mourned by many,

just his family and his wife.

For he lived a very ordinary

quiet sort of life.

 

He held a job and raised a family,

going quietly on his way.

And the world won’t note his passing,

Though a soldier died today.

 

When the politicians leave this earth

their bodies lie in state,

while thousands note their passing

and proclaim that they were great.

 

Papers tell their life stories

from the time when they were young.

While the passing of a soldier

goes unnoticed and unsung.

 

Is the greatest contribution

to the welfare of our land,

to one who breaks his promise

and cons his fellow man?

 

Or the ordinary fellow,

who in times of war and strife,

goes off to serve his country

and offers up his life?

 

The politician’s stipend

and the style in which he lives

are often disproportionate

to the service that he gives.

 

While the ordinary soldier

who offers up his all

is paid off with a medal

and perhaps a pension small.

 

It is not the politician,

with his compromise and ploys,

who won for us that freedom

our country now enjoys.

 

If you find yourself in danger

with your enemies at hand,

would you really want some cop-out

with his ever waffling stand?

 

Or would you want a soldier

on whom you can depend?

Just a common soldier

who would fight until the end?

 

He was just a common soldier,

and his ranks are growing thin.

But his presence should remind us

we may need his likes again.

 

For when countries are in conflict,

we find the soldiers part

is to clean up all the troubles

that the politicians start.

 

If we cannot do him honor

while he’s here to hear the praise,

then at least let’s give him homage

at the ending of his days.

 

Perhaps a simple headline

in the papers that might say,

“OUR COUNTRY IS IN MOURNING

A SOLDIER DIED TODAY!”

 

*******

 


In Memory of Memorial Day

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Because many towns and cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, the exact origin of this holiday remains vague.  Originally named Decoration Day, we do know that Memorial Day has Southern roots.  It began when groups of Southern women decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers during and after the Civil War.  “Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping,” a hymn published in 1867 by Nella L. Sweet, was sung during the commemorative ceremonies.  However, Decoration Day was neither recognized nor treated as a special day.


In the wake of the Civil War, a great rift continued to exist between the North and South, as did the need to honor the fallen soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Reconciliation between the two sides was critical to our national healing process.


General John A. Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, began that process.  On May 5, 1868 Logan announced the establishment of Memorial Day.  On May 30th of that year, the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated, for the first time, at Arlington Cemetery.


The State of New York officially recognized the holiday in 1873; by 1890, the other Northern States had embraced it.  The South, however, continued to observe a separate day.  After World War I, Memorial Day assumed a broader meaning.  Proclaimed a national holiday, its intent was to honor the fallen soldiers of all wars.


In 1915, Moina Michael, who was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Field,” penned her own paean to our troops:


We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led.

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.

 

Moina sold poppy flowers to benefit our servicemen in need.  Her devotion, coupled with her poem, gave birth to the practice of wearing poppies in our lapels in observance of Memorial Day.


A French woman named Madam Guerin then copied this practice as a means of generating funds for the Franco-American Children’s League, which supported orphans in France and Belgium.  A year later, when  the League disbanded, Madam Guerin reached out to the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) for assistance.  Thus, the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to sell Buddy Poppies made by disabled veterans nationwide.  In 1948, the United States Postal Service honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy Movement with a three-cent stamp bearing her likeness.


Over the years, America has drifted away from traditional customs, and Memorial Day is one such casualty.  Ironically, it was our government that initiated the loss of Memorial Day as a way of honoring the men and women who made the supreme sacrifice for our country.


In 1971, Congress enacted P.L. 90-363, which stated that Memorial Day would henceforth be celebrated on the last Monday in May, in order to ensure a three-day holiday weekend.   It also guaranteed that businesses would rake in extra cash by hosting Memorial Day blowout sales.  The VFW and other veteran groups responded to P.L. 90-363 by telling our legislators that changing the date simply to accommodate a three-day holiday weekend would undermine the very meaning of the day.  Congress’ act has contributed directly to the public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.


On January 19, 1999 Senator Inouye introduced a bill to the Senate (S-189) in order to return Memorial Day to its original date of May 30th.  Exactly three months later, Representative Gibbons introduced virtually the same bill, H.R. 1474, to the House.   Both bills were referred to the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Government Reform.  To date, the bills are still languishing.   I guess they’re not good for business.


In December 2000, in an effort to restore public awareness, President Clinton issued a directive to have a voluntary moment of silence at 3 PM on Memorial Day.


Despite these efforts, Congress sought to hijack yet another day of observance when it attempted to convert Veterans Day to a three-day holiday weekend.  Met with stiff opposition by veterans’ groups, the attempt did not succeed.


American traditions are constantly challenged for the sake of the Almighty Buck.  If our days of observance vanish completely, it will be because our lawmakers failed to understand that Sacrifice without remembrance is meaningless.


My Buddy: A Veterans Day Reminiscence

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Today, November 11th, we celebrate Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day.  It is a day of reflection for many who have served their country, both in wartime and during often-tenuous peacekeeping missions.  Many veterans will relive a past they can never forget: the things they have seen and done, the places they have been, those who served beside them, those who fell in battle, and those who lived to carry on and remember their comrades.  If, like me, you are a veteran, these things will, like an unstoppable army, invade your mind, your heart, and your soul today.  And of all those memories, the sharpest will be the thoughts of your buddies, your comrades in arms.


On October 7th of this year, my buddy, P. Gerald Barbato, celebrated his 84th birthday. As I have for all of his prior birthdays, I placed my annual telephone call to him, to wish him well.


Of all the men with whom I had soldiered during World War II, Gerald is my last remaining contact.  On September of 1946, he and I and the rest of our military buddies parted company; our replacements had arrived to relieve us.  We were the men of the United States Army’s 24th Signal Company, stationed in Kokura, Kyushu, Japan.


After almost a full year of occupying Japan, our parting was heavy with mixed emotions.  We were happy to be returning home to civilian life after our tour of duty.  But at the same time, we realized that this would be farewell.  Before sailing forever away from Japan, we had all exchanged our names and contact information in order to remain in touch.


Over the years, the list of names dwindled as contacts were lost and we found ourselves down to a handful of friends who kept in touch.  In my last conversation with him, I told him of the passing of Paul Bartels, a sad occurrence leaving us the last remaining members of our group.  How odd that feels, as it seems like just yesterday that he and I both shared our 19th birthday in Matsuyama, Japan, in October of 1945.  He is three days older than I am, and since that day, our friendship has grown.


I always quizzed him about what the P. in his name signifies.  At first, he just sloughed it off, refusing to answer.  But after I pursued the issue, he said, “In confidence, Tommy, I was not expected to live when I was born, and so, was named after my dead Aunt Patsy.  Now I have to live with that name!”  From then on, I always called him Pat!


I returned home from the war in the fall of 1946.  A few years later, I received an invitation to Pat’s wedding, which I gladly accepted. It was my first visit to Long Island, New York.  Pat’s wife Kathy was as beautiful as the photograph he’d shown us all in Japan. He asked his cousins to accompany me through the joyous ceremony and reception, and also to ensure — as he and Kathy embarked upon their honeymoon — that I had returned home safely to South Jersey.


In April 21, 1951, I married Madeline (Midge) Fortino and got on with my life.  However, I still managed to keep in touch with the men with whom I had served, via annual Christmas cards.  I accompanied these with letters of the events that had transpired earlier each year.


1954 was a banner year for us, as Midge and I celebrated the birth of our first child, my son Tom Junior, and Pat and Kathy welcomed their first child, a daughter named Patty.  But, 1975 was a bad year as Midge suddenly passed away, leaving me with Tom Junior and his brother, Michael.  In trying to adjust to the loss of my wife, I went on the nightshift at work because it was easier to care for my sons that way.  With so much going on in my life, I dropped out of sight for a while with my old Army buddies.


In July of 1983, I remarried Priscilla (Pat) Nikunen, and added her three children to our blended family.  Like Pat’s Kathy, my Pat was a Long Island girl whose children still lived there.  This meant that I now had a reason to visit my buddy Pat in person.  Since then, we have enjoyed each other’s company while making family visits to Long Island.  During one of our visits, we had dinner at Republic Field Airport in Farmingdale.  It was in a World War II type restaurant, filled with memorabilia of the era.  It was a wonderful night filled with reminders of those heady, scary, glorious times overseas.


In our phone conversations over the years, Pat always reminds me that he hopes to be the oldest living World War II veteran, with me three days behind him!  So, today — November 11, 2010, I’ll be reminiscing about my buddy and our tour of duty during World War II.  I’ll be hoping we will still be around to celebrate Veterans Day in 2011!


I sincerely hope that my buddy Pat gets his wish.  As I have traveled down the hard road of life, I have found that hope is a good thing.  It may be the best of things, for without hope, life would be as cold as yesterday’s pizza.

The History and Meaning of Memorial Day

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Although justified in the name of human rights, our nation’s Civil War tore entire families asunder and left many casualties.   In order to help our country begin to heal from its self-inflicted wounds, many communities across the country set aside a day to honor those who had fallen in the Civil War.  Aptly named Decoration Day, it mirrored the practice of decorating the graves of the fallen with flowers and flags.


The first observance of Decoration Day occurred on May 5th, 1866 at Waterloo, New York.  Two prominent generals – General John Murray, who was a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of a veteran’s organization known as The Grand Army of the Republic –present that day determined that they would expand the holiday to encompass families and their departed loved ones nationwide.  Thus positioned to claim the attention of the public, these military leaders proclaimed that Decoration Day be observed nationwide.  A few short weeks later, on May 30th of the same year, it was.  The date of May 30th may very well have been arbitrary, as it was not associated with any Civil War battle.


Many Southern States refused to observe the holiday, due to the hostility that lingered in the air long after the last shot of the war was fired.  In order to gain the South’s consensus, the name Decoration Day, which was so closely associated with the Civil War, became known as Memorial Day.  The name was first unveiled in 1882, but it did not become official until June 28, 1968!


On that day, Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Bill, a piece of legislation that moved traditional dates of observance to specified Mondays, so as to create three-day holiday weekends.  The holidays so chosen were George Washington’s Birthday (later known as Presidents Day, when it was combined to simultaneously honor Abraham Lincoln), Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day.  However, as many veteran organizations did not wish to comply with the bill, Veteran’s Day was ultimately restored to its original date of November 11th.


As a result of this creation of long holiday weekends, most corporate businesses no longer close on Veteran’s day, Columbus Day, President’s Day, or the day after Thanksgiving, because it’s good for business!  By moving Memorial Day, in 1971, from its traditional May 30th to the last Monday in May, our lawmakers either wittingly or unwittingly created the three-day weekend that has come a long way from honoring our fallen heroes.  Instead of decorating graves, throngs flock to our oceans, rivers, and lakes to jump into the drink and patronize all manners of vendors, who profit.  Larger profits = more taxes, so I suppose the government had this planned all along as a money maker, rather than a way to give hard working taxpayers a long weekend.


More than two centuries have passed from America’s courageous and tenacious inception in 1776.  But at every step in our evolution, we have paid the price of freedom.  As the pages in our history have turned past the Civil War to the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Storm, and the Iraqi and Afghan wars, those pages were marked by a long trail of American blood.  That blood is still being shed for the freedoms that many of us now take for granted.


A wise man once said, “Sacrifice without remembrance is meaningless” and “A promise made is a debt unpaid.”  As a nation, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have served and who continue to serve and protect us.  These include our fallen heroes as well as our armed forces, both in action and on peacekeeping missions, and all of the police, fire, and rescue departments stretching from sea to shining sea.  Honoring Memorial Day is actually a way to honor them.


You can start the day by displaying the American flag prominently outside your home or place of business, and by wearing it, gentlemen, on your lapel and ladies, as a pin.  You may also be moved to attend one of the many local services honoring our soldiers.  Or, you can simply take a moment from your happy holiday of Memorial Day, whether you are at home or on a beach or at a family gathering, especially one that includes children.  You can be the one to announce, “Will everyone stop what you are doing for a moment of silence, while we offer up a prayer to honor those who gave us this day by protecting our freedoms.”  You can end the remembrance with, “God Bless America.”  Thus, you will have paid your debt, as well as your respect to those who mightily deserve it. 

One Minute of Silence

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Armistice Day 1937 

At precisely 11 o’clock on November 11, 1918, the guns of World War I fell silent.  With the signing of the Armistice between Germany and the Allied countries, the first global conflict officially ended.  Armistice Day was thus created to commemorate the men and women who served their country during World War I.  On this day of remembrance, we observed one minute of silence for those who gave their lives to bring peace to the world.

 

As a boy growing up during the Great Depression, I distinctly remember that, at the stroke of the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, factory whistles would blow, signaling that one minute of silence.  At that moment, every man, woman, and child in this great nation paused to respect the soldiers who had fought and died in World War I.

 

After “The War to End All Wars” ceased, President Woodrow Wilson, who dreamed of lasting peace, formed the League of Nations to ensure harmony worldwide.   For two decades, peace reigned.  When World War II erupted, it swept Europe, England, the United States, parts of Africa, and Japan into a conflict that lasted four very long, bloody years.

 

When it finally ended, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day in order to pay our respects to those who had fallen during both World Wars.  In so doing, something profound was lost in the transition: that one moment of silence.

 

In today’s rapidly changing, politically correct world, when holidays set aside to honor God and Country are losing their meaning, I would like to see that old world custom restored to Veterans Day:  that minute of silence when every man, woman, and child pauses, no matter where they are and what they are doing, to honor and respect, lest we forget. 

 

Veterans Day - Thank a Vet

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