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What is Veterans Day?

Some thoughts and suggestions for ways to honor our nation’s veterans

While I applaud Americans who honor our nation’s military dead, I always wonder why there are so many memorial services held in cemeteries on November 11, Veterans Day. It seems people are confusing Veterans Day with Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring American military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died serving their country are also remembered on Veterans Day, Veterans Day is a day set aside to thank and honor all those who have served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty.

November 11 was first known as Armistice Day, commemorating the cessation of all major hostilities of World War I at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice. Armistice Day became a legal Federal holiday in 1938 when Congress passed a bill declaring that each November 11 “shall be dedicated to the cause of world peace and …hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.” The holiday was officially re-named Veterans Day by Act of Congress in 1954, and President Eisenhower asked citizens to observe the day by remembering and honoring the sacrifices of the servicemen of all America’s wars, and through re-dedication to the task of promoting an enduring peace.

The focal point for official, national ceremonies on Veterans Day continues to be at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. At 11 a.m. on November 11, a joint service color guard representing all military services executes “Present Arms” at the tomb. The nations tribute to its war dead is symbolized by the laying of a presidential wreath. The bugler sounds Taps. The rest of the ceremony takes place in the amphitheater. This ceremony is done because the original Unknown Soldier from WWI was buried on the amphitheater plaza on Armistice Day, 1921. The other Unknowns buried in Arlington were interred on Memorial Day, 1958 and Memorial Day, 1984.

I strongly believe we should all take time on Memorial Day to visit veterans graves, to remember and pay tribute to those Americans who gave their all in service to their country. I’m just wondering if the time spent going to cemeteries on November 11 shouldn’t instead be spent visiting a VA Hospital, volunteering with the USO for a day, or attending a parade honoring our living veterans.

As for myself, on November 11 I’m going to seek out every WWII and Korean War Vet I can and say “Thank You!” and every Vietnam Veteran I see and say “Welcome Home!” I also will not forget the men and women who served in Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom along with other conflicts. Also we should not forget the members of our National Guard who are called up to help with disasters here at home. There are plenty of veterans of the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq who deserve our support and thanks for their service. Let’s remember what Veterans Day is really about and let our veterans know we appreciate them while we can still thank them in person.

Lastly, let’s not forget about those veterans struggling each day with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, drug and alcohol abuse.  It is said 22 US service veterans take their own lives every day. And sadly, it is estimated in a 2012 report that fewer than 25 percent of veterans who committed suicide had sought mental health care at the VA.

What can we do? Let’s reach out to our fellow veterans. Be a Wing-man, a Battle-buddy, a Ship-mate. Guide them to local, state or federal resources. Learn what the warning signs are and act on them. Veterans, Service members, and their loved ones can receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year,  even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.

Anonymous online chat –
Text 838255
Crisis phone line – call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1

Here is a video on this issue:

Jari Villanueva (USAF 1985-2008)


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