Pearls & Vodka

Veterans Day: What have you done to thank a veteran today?

The United States of America has been celebrating Veterans Day for 99 years now. We first began our celebrations through Armistice Day and then in 1954 the name was changed to Veterans Day.

The original intent of Veterans Day was to celebrate world peace. When the wars never ended after World War I, the purpose changed to honor those who have served our great nation.

World War I was known as the “War to end all wars.” Unfortunately, as you are well aware of, there was a World War II and many more to follow.

On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, the fighting between the Allied Forces and Germany stopped. This bloodbath ended in adherence to the armistice agreement that was signed in France that day. Though the agreement signaled the end of the battle, the war itself carried on for seven more months.

The following year President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that November 11th would then be known as Armistice Day. Wilson’s proclamation read, “Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” [1]

On June 1st, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill changing the name of Armistice Day to the more inclusive Veterans Day. This holiday was renamed as a way to thank all who had served the United States of America. President Eisenhower felt that veterans from World War II and the Korean War also deserved their own day of remembrance. President Eisenhower wrote, “On that day, let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” [1]

A lot of things have changed in our world since the original designation of Armistice Day. Armistice Day was founded in hopes of “the war” ending and world peace reigning. Unfortunately, history has proven differently. The wars have continued, one after another. World peace has not been an ideology shared in every nation, and every tribe in our world. Though the name has changed, and the original intent has been revamped, Veterans Day still honors the theology of peace and freedom in thanks to the soldiers who have fought to defend her.

Today we honor not only the men, but now the women too, who have served our nation. Our wars are no longer fought with cannons, but with drones striking from all sorts of locations.

Our purpose today on this national holiday is to say, “Thank you!

The official ceremony in the United States is held at Arlington National Cemetery, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

If you’ve never been to Arlington, you really have to go. As you walk those hallowed grounds, the eeriness of the quiet and still will captivate you. You will walk amongst the rows and rows of white crosses. Simple in stature, but enormously powerful.

Underneath those grounds lies the remains of thousands of soldiers who fought to protect and defend this great nation.

Every ounce of freedom we possess today is ours thanks to those lives laid to rest there.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of the most powerful memorials we have in this nation. The stone in Arlington is inscribed with the words, “Known but to God.” The remains buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier belong to a dead soldier who is unidentified, their remains were considered impossible to identify. The monument serves as a symbol for all those who were lost on foreign soil and never identified. If you ever visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, no matter what time you go, or what day you go, no matter the weather conditions, there will be a member of the Society of the Honor Guard marching in front of the monument.

The Sentinel’s Creed is the Tomb Guard standard; it is 99 words that explain their duty and their reverence. Line 6 is the most famously known phrase of the Creed, “My standard will remain perfection.” The Tomb itself is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It takes Tomb Guards roughly 8 hours to prepare their uniforms for the following day’s service. The Guards march 21 steps each direction for the duration of their shifts. The highest honor given to any military dignitary is the 21-gun salute, thus the 21 steps. After they complete 21 steps in one direction, they turn and face the tomb and face it for 21 seconds as well. And then they begin their 21 steps in the other direction on the mat. All Sentinel’s gloves are wet to improve their grip on their rifles. During the summer months, the guard changes every 30 minutes. In the winter months, they are changed every hour and then while the Cemetery is closed at night the guard changes every 2 hours. [2]

The tomb has been guarded every minute of every day since 1937.

Honoring our service members, both those that have fallen, those that survived and those who have passed is a staple of our nation; and should always remain as such.

Kids today need to realize that a Colonel, Lieutenant, Sergeant, Commander, Private and all service members are more of a hero than any Spiderman, Superman, Batman or Marvel character. They are the real Captain Americas.

If we do not teach our children about their heritage, about the service and sacrifice of the men and women who proudly wear the title of “veteran” how will they ever know how we got here as a nation and what it requires to protect us going forward.

The stories of all veterans are different. Some struggle under the burdens of PTSD, some are fighting pain daily from injuries received in combat, some are homeless, some are hungry, some are struggling with long processes to receive healthcare. And these things are all wrong. We declare a new national crisis every day, and there are some serious issues facing our great nation. But it assuredly should be a national crisis that our veterans are not easily accessing the healthcare they need, that they do not have a roof over their head, that they are being crippled by the internal wounds of PTSD.

How much better of a way to show your gratitude than to make sure they are cared for, for all the days of their lives?

There are major changes that need to be made at our VA.

In 2014, the Veterans Choice and Accountability Act was passed providing a $16 billion fix to get veterans medical care more quickly. There was a designation that $10 billion of that funding would provide healthcare for veterans outside of the VA system. Another $2.5 was assigned to hiring new doctors. NPR has been tracking the funding and progress of the VA, and unfortunately, the number of new hires has not increased with additional funding. Of the 12,000 hired through the Veterans Choice Act, there has been no logical staffing pattern to distribute those employees to places in the most need. Many feel that our veterans were misled about the new funding from the Veterans Choice Act. It was not a $16.5 billion increase in the existing VA budget; it was a replacement of the current budget. [3]

While TIME magazine has reported today that the number of homeless veterans is down 40% since 2011, there are still over 40,000 that are homeless, and over 14,000 of those are not sheltered in any manner. [4] It’s not a pleasant picture to paint, but the reality of that scenario is that we recruited these men and women, trained them, shipped them to combat zones all across our world, away from their families, we used their skills and their lives every single day to protect our country and promote our campaigns for democracy at home and abroad and once they got home, we waved goodbye as they left their plane or ship and never gave them our thoughts again.

Granted, many of us do not live that way.

I was raised by a man who spent 23 years in the military. My Dad served honorably in the guard of the VFW until the day he died. He raised money and gave of his time daily to the organization. He helped build a wall that memorializes the service of hundreds of Arkansans. My Dad was under the VA’s care for every year of his retirement. In fact, he had just seen his doctor at the VA the week before his unexpected passing. My Dad loved being a veteran. He loved the ceremony at church every year when they would play the fight songs of each branch. He never stood taller or prouder than he stood when the Air Force song played. We even had it played at his funeral. Before his funeral, we had a private burial at the National Cemetery in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Honor Guard that he so proudly led and served with were there to present my mother with the flag of our country and to conduct the 21-gun salute. I have the shell casings from that salute. I have the flag from that service. They are reminders of my Dad’s life, but the story they tell is more about his service than anything else.

I held my son this morning and explained to him that today is Veterans Day. And we talked about “our favorite veteran” Grandpa Franklin, his namesake. My son will grow up hearing the stories of my Dad’s service and his love of our country. And we hope to pass those values on to him. My son goes with his nanny once a month to feed the veterans here in our town. He thinks airplanes and uniforms are the coolest things ever. And I hope he always feels that way. His eyes light up when he sees the memorial in town with a combat tank.

I want my son always to know that no matter what you have in life, you give of yourself to honor those who gave their all for your freedom.

Today, on this Veterans Day, find a way to honor those who gave everything to protect you:

  • Go make a donation to the Semper Fi Fund. Semper Fi Fund provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post 9/11 combat wounded, critically ill and catastrophically injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. We deliver the resources they need during recovery and transition back to their communities, working to ensure no one is left behind. Since establishing the Semper Fi Fund in 2004, we’ve issued 149,000 grants, totaling more than $158 million in assistance to over 19,500 of our heroes and their families. [5]
  • Write a letter to your elected officials to encourage them to support bills that will help solve the issues in our VA system. Implore your elected officials to stop cutting funding to the community mental health systems that are supporting our veterans in their battles with PTSD.
  • Teach your child about a veteran today. Tell them the stories of those who fought in combat to defend freedom. Make sure they know the names and stories of some veterans and not just some comic book superheroes.

And to our veterans, “thank you” will never be enough. We owe each and every one of you, everything we have. May God bless you, your families, your fallen brothers, and sisters, and may God bless the United States of America.

 

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/11/11/how-veterans-day-went-from-celebrating-world-peace-to-thanking-armed-forces/?utm_term=.b8d9a028862e

[2] https://tombguard.org/society/faq/

[3] https://www.npr.org/2017/01/31/512052311/va-hospitals-still-struggling-with-adding-staff-despite-billions-from-choice-act

[4] http://time.com/5019720/veterans-homeless/

[5] https://semperfifund.org

Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash