Veterans Day was just over two weeks ago, Monday, November 11, 2013. Between that day and this, I’ve been thinking about what a really outstanding job this community does honoring its veterans. Throughout our school system, particularly the elementary schools, programs were held to make our kids aware of what Veterans Day is all about. Local veterans were honored with special programs at the schools, which served two important purposes: First, it let local vets know they’re not forgotten. Second, it instilled in our young people an appreciation of what was done for them by those who served this country.
There was also a commemoration service held at the Veterans Memorial Bridge in the far north end of North Memorial Park. Other service clubs and organizations, the American Legion in particular, made the day special for local vets. The local newspaper also covered Veterans Day events. I’m not sure every community did the same for its veterans. Most did something to honor their vets, I suspect, which was as it should have been. That was not the case after the war in Vietnam when the military’s popularity was at a low ebb. Vietnam, without question, has to be the least popular war in which this nation has ever been involved. As it turns out, those who opposed the Vietnam War were essentially right about it. History has now shown that every administration, from Eisenhower to Nixon, including Kennedy and Johnson, was wrong about what was going on in Southeast Asia. History demonstrates that it had nothing to do with “creeping Communism.” Nevertheless, beginning in the late 1950s through the early 1970s we sent more and more American troops to support the faltering South Vietnamese army. Did our involvement ultimately make any difference in the final outcome of the conflict in that part of the world? Nope! The outcome ultimately was the same as it would have been if we hadn’t gotten involved in the first place – except for the loss of 56,000 American lives…
It is critical to point out, however, that the sacrifice and heroism of those who went to Vietnam is in no way diminished by at least four administrations’ failure to understand what was really going on in Vietnam. The troops who were sent there were as brave and courageous as any whom we have sent into battle. The problem is they were sent there for entirely the wrong reasons! I can think of no other conflict in which American troops have been involved that was as unpopular with the homefolks as Vietnam. The ultimate tragedy was the civilian population took out their frustration on the troops, not on the politicians who sent them there. Young people in particular were opposed to our involvement in Vietnam. The contention that we were stopping the spread of communism in Southeast Asia simply didn’t resonate with the young people being drafted into the Army – and why should it have? It turned out to be nothing more than a terrible waste of lives. Now, nearly forty years later, it’s possible for Americans to take tours of beautiful and exotic Vietnam!
The one good thing to come out of the war in Vietnam was, finally, the public realization of the terrible sacrifices made by the young Americans who were sent there. Public opinion about the veterans of that war has changed 180 degrees over the last several decades. But was our involvement in Vietnam worth the American lives that were lost? It wasn’t worth one American life, let along some 56,000 lives.
The same cannot be said, however, about the Korean War, World War II and certainly not World War I. It was World War I, as a matter of fact, that gave us Veterans Day. There were parades and celebrations all over the nation when the boys came home from all those other conflicts. For that matter, have you ever wondered why we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11th or why ceremonies on that day take place at 11 a.m.? Seems a little odd, doesn’t it? Odd as it may seem, there’s a very good reason for that time that day, and that month. World War I ended precisely at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. It was at that moment that the shooting stopped on both sides of “no man’s land” all along the Western Front. That precise moment was decided upon by the victorious Allies and imposed on Germany.
Years ago Veterans Day was actually called Armistice Day. The reason for that is that what technically happened at 11 a.m. on November 11th back in 1918 was an armistice which means the killing simply stopped and the troops on both sides “stood in place” until a formal peace treaty could be signed, (the reality is most were sent home). The war was, technically, still on until a full seven months later when the Treaty of Versailles was signed by all the nations who were at war with one another – it was just that nobody had been killing each other after November 11th.
It’s interesting, I think, that, even though World War II was a far larger conflict that cost the lives of something like 85 million people worldwide, few people today know the official end date of World War II was September 2, 1945. Nevertheless, November 11th at 11 a.m. is the date and the time when we observe Veterans Day and we remember the service and sacrifice of all those who have worn the uniform of the armed forces of the United States.
That’s –30—for this week.