It used to be Armistice Day when I was a young man. Veterans of the Great War had poppies stuck in their lapels, a remembrance of Flanders Field where many soldiers of the first World War were buried in France.
Young boys who had read "The Boy Allies" books lamented the fact that they would never have the glorious adventures that their fathers and uncles had experienced. We all stood with heads bowed at 11 a.m. while taps were played, and for a minute prayed for those who had given their lives for their country.
At a family gathering, someone would start singing "Over There", or "Mademoiselle from Armitieres" (parlez vous?). We listened to George M. Cohan and "Yankee Doodle Dandy". and all of us knew that Irving Berlin hated to get up in the morning!
Then came the great Worlds's Fair of 1939, the Century of progress with the huge Russian Pavillion, And...the invasion of the Sudetanland and Poland We applauded when FDR gave 50 over-aged destroyers to Britain, and decided that a civilian Draft was a wise thing. It didn't reach home to us yet until the number 184 was pulled from a drum in Washington and the first young man was called up for one year of military service.
The acronym 4-F became a part of our vocabulary, and a lot of young men suddenly decided that enlisting in the Navy was a smart way to avoid the draft and army service. Submarines along the Atlantic coast threatened neutral shipping, and "Lend-Lease" was added to our vocabulary. The Defense industry propped up the economy and the call for"America First" started to be muted.
The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor electrified the nation, and the civilian-soldiers were sent to army camps to became our first line of defense. Armistice Day poppies were replaced by small banners being displayed in windows of homes, and soon many blue stars were replaced by gold stars when the final count of the casualties of Pearl Harbor was released. The Battle for Britain was closely watched, and Adolph Hitler changed from a comic figure to a demon.
The Pacific Islands and the African desert welcomed the new soldiers to their baptism of fire, and APO adresses and V-Mail became the standard mode of communication.
Finally D-Day arrived, and with it an increase in the number of Gold Stars being displayed. Military hospitals now were common in all of the states, and the term "veteran" was now being applied to young men who, some of them, had not shaved till they went into service.
The war finally ended.
Huge numbers of soldiers were returned to civilan life, and many of them started or returned to college under the GI Bill of Rights. Many more of them married their war-time girlfriends and some married girls they met overseas, and brought home as "War Brides". The 52-20 system started where veterans were paid $20. per week for up to 52 weeks of unemployment. Returning soldiers took over the jobs that had been held by Rosie the Riveter as she left full-time employment to become a suburban housewife!
And so, the baby boom started. Housing developments for veterans proliferated and the war-time economy shifted over to accommodate a peacetime demand for scarce consumer goods.
Armistice Day was re-named Veterans Day, and Flanders field became a distant memory as new military cemeteries sprung up in each state. The "Ruptured Duck"of WWII veterans symbolism was forgotten when the Police Action of Korea was soon replaced by the undeclared war of Viet Nam.
The veterans of 'Nam had a tough time adjusting to civilian life because of the unpopularity of the "War that couldn't be won." In spite of the aniti-war sentiment of the time, their blood shed for us was just as red as the blood shed by the soldiers of other wars. Their heroic deeds were judged by the same standards as soldiers from other wars. Veterans organizations welcomed them to their ranks.
Desert Storm and actions in Africa and Serbia ushered in the era of electronic warfare as well as terrorist attacks. Casualties of those conflicts certainly deserve a place of honor in our memories. The professional as well as the civilian soldier has always been available to serve in all places and in all climates. The days spent in the service of our county have always meant sacrifice of some sort on their part, and those who completed their duty without wounds or decorations were not less deserving of our respect and honor than those who made the supreme sacrifice.
From Bunker Hill, through the Brooksville Raid and Gettysburgh , to the Battle for San Juan Hill, Pearl Harbor and Normandy; Pusan, Saigon and Bagdad and Belgrade, American men and women have offered their bodies to protect our families and homes. The Men and the women of the National Guard in our community now stand ready for our protection when called.
Today the moment of silence and the playing of taps has been, for the most part, supplanted by the sounds of traffic speeding to malls in search of the Veterans Day Sales that have no place in their schedules for a minute of prayer and rembrance.
The military and civilian cemeterys where the headstones mark the graves of those who died during or after serving their country will be tranquil today. Dedicated groups from veterans organizations will fire volleys and sound taps there. The veterans who rest under the plain markers cannot hear or read about the special sales of the day, as they now rest in eternal peace.
May God bless them.