Sunday, December 20, 2015

Veteran's Day: Honoring those who serve in the military

11/11/15 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Today is Veterans Day and the above World War I poem will be quoted extensively around the world. In 1915, Major John McCrae, a battlefield doctor, penned it during the Second Battle of Ypres, upon the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. In a few short words he sums up the brevity of life when nations quarrel. One hundred years later, his words have not been forgotten.

For centuries, the world’s nations have struggled to put their wars into perspective by remembering the bravery of those who have gone into battle. Here in the United States, we have two legal holidays to celebrate our military personnel. Both days are set aside to honor those who have served their country in the military with parades, speeches and the laying of wreathes. But there is a difference between the two.

Memorial Day was originally celebrated on May 30. According to the US Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs, it is a time to remember and honor military personnel who died in the service of their country—either in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle.

There are many versions of how and when Memorial Day began. All agree that it started after the Civil War and each one has its merits. The most popular is that in the late 1860s, the ladies of the South would decorate the graves of Confederate dead. Then someone suggested that they also decorate those of the Union soldiers as a reconciliation gesture and the tradition spread around the country.

My favorite Memorial Day story is that former slaves started it on May 1, 1865, in Charleston, So. Carolina. They dug up the bodies of 257 Union soldiers buried in a Confederate prison camp and gave them a proper burial as gratitude for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 black children as they marched, sang and celebrated.

By the end of the 19th century, Civil War Memorial Day celebrations were being held around the nation. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who died in all American wars. The date was also changed to the last Monday in May, as were other federal holidays. Later, a nationwide moment of silence was added at 3 p.m. as a Moment of Remembrance.

Armistice/Veterans Day came about as a result of World War I, also known as “the Great War.” It began with the shooting of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and launched a global war that killed untold millions between 1914-1918. Finally, a temporary cessation of hostilities was declared between Germany and the Allied nations on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Commerations began the following year. Nov. 11 became a federal holiday in 1938.

Now here’s where things get tricky. Veterans Day is a day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military—during war or peace. It is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service and acknowledge their contributions to our national security. So if you know a veteran, today is the day to shake their hand, give them a hug and say “Thank you!”

The national Veterans Day Ceremony is held every year on Nov. 11 at Arlington National Cemetery. It begins precisely at 11 a.m. with a wreath laying by the President (or his designee) at the Tomb of the Unknown and continues inside the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors by veterans’ organizations remarks from dignitaries.

Other countries also celebrate veterans in Nov. Today, Canada and Australia will join us in observing “Remembrance Day” in a similar manner to the U.S. Many Canadians wear red poppy flowers in honor of their war dead in reference to the above poem.

Great Britain observes “Remembrance Day” on the Sunday nearest to Nov. 11 with church services and parades leading from London’s Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square. Wreaths of poppies are left at a war memorial in Whitehall, built after the war. A two-minute silence is observed at 11 a.m. to honor those who lost their lives in war.

Now, here are a few bits of miscellaneous trivia for you from the 2013 V.A. census facts. Some of these veterans overlapped and served during as many as three eras.

1.    There were a total of approximately 21.5 million living veterans.
2.     9.3 million veterans were 65 years or older.
3.    1.6 million veterans were younger than 35 years.
4.    1.6 million were female veterans.
5.    7.0 million Vietnam-era veterans
6.    5.2 million served during the Gulf War era.
7.    1.3 million were World War II veterans.
8.    2.1 million were Korean War veterans.
9.    4.7 served in peacetime only.
10. The last surviving World War I veteran was Frank Buckles in West Virginia. He died in 2011 at the age of 110 years.

These are sobering numbers and the individuals worthy of our praise and respect. May God bless you all and peace be in your hearts and homes. God bless America!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places,
 family, and other matters of the heart. 

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