It was originally Armistice Day, not Veterans Day, meant to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when Allied forces and Germany signed the treaty that effectively brought World War I to an end.
Only astute students of history pay much attention to that these days, as World War I has been eclipsed by other wars, time, and the passing of all its heroes, the last in 2012.
World War II and its nearly 80 million dead eclipsed its forerunner, as 16 million answered the call for military service. They deserved recognition, too, so Armistice Day became Veterans Day in 1954, the same year “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance.
Since then, with the exception of eight years when it was celebrated as a Monday holiday, Nov. 11 has been Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor both the living and the dead who served in our military.
Celebration of Veterans Day has changed. The parades and public meetings in the years after World War I have all but disappeared.
While it was intended that those of us who did not serve pay tribute to those who did, local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts took on increasing responsibilities for ensuring the day was remembered. As those posts have dwindled in membership, many observances have simply disappeared.
The largest collective recognition of veterans this year may well be on the Internet. People will flock to their computer screens, do a quick Google search for a picture proclaiming something like “We support our veterans,” and post it to social media. I anticipate seeing at least a dozen posts of Lee Greenwood’s song “Proud to Be An American.” It’s easy, it’s quick, it looks patriotic, and one can be about the rest of the business of the day. These days, it’s as American as apple pie.
The day changed once before, from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, and I think it’s high time it change again.
Let’s officially make it Veterans Advocacy Day, a day when Americans are encouraged to do something to make life better for the 22 million living veterans in the country. There are individuals and groups that already use the day that way, so why not put a little more oomph behind those efforts and encourage more by putting the focus squarely on service, and not lip service.
Perhaps the best way to recognize such a day is to spend time with a veteran and his or her family. Pay a visit to a veteran in a nursing home or VA medical center and plan time for a good stay. Maybe there’s a veteran living nearby who needs a little help with their yard. Invite a veteran’s family to dinner. Particularly for younger veterans, connecting in meaningful ways with neighbors, with members of their community, helps the transition to civilian life immensely.
Make it a day to give a donation to a group that’s working to make the lives of veterans better; there are dozens and dozens of them. Websites like Charity Navigator can help to identify such organizations and let you know which ones are best at using donations to fund direct services. If you have a veteran in your family, make a donation in their honor. Sometimes it’s hard to connect directly with a veteran in need; let one of these organizations do it for you.
If you’re a writer, use Veterans Advocacy Day to pen notes to officials in Washington in support of programs supporting veterans. Push for improved care in the VA hospital system. Advocate for more flexibility to use medical providers closer to home. Encourage more support for helping soldiers cope with the physical and emotional scars of service. There are scores of issues to be addressed, yet not enough voices are heard.
Thanks are due to our veterans, as well as to their families, and today we give it, sincerely and gratefully. As for the next step, turning thanks into action, into advocacy? That doesn’t have to wait until next year. It can start today.
— david colburn