By Sid Orr
In elementary school, I remember celebrating “Armistice Day.” Always the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month observed the end of hostilities of the brutal World War I, the “war to end all wars.”
Armistice Day was set aside to celebrate world peace. In 1954, following WWII and Korea and the greatest mobilization of forces in our nation’s history, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day. President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed, “In order to ensure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose.”
When we returned from Vietnam, we returned as individuals. I didn’t know one other person on that plane ride home. Our DEROS (Date of estimated return from overseas) simply matched those of our brothers on that plane. I remember very little conversation on that long ride home. Our thoughts were about the job market back home, our families and our future and how to “become human” again. It has been the same for every returning veteran from the Patriots of ’76 to the heroes of Afghanistan. Combat takes your humanity from you. You do things and see things you cannot forget. The transition to normalcy is brutal.
Today, the military is wise to send troops into combat mostly by units. Those they train with, serve with and fight with, they mostly return home with. That connection to families, fighting units and friends remains after returning home. That connection is there for life and the importance cannot be overstated. Things are changing!
I remember being a part of the Atlanta Veteran’s Day parade sometime in the late 1980s. A very nice-looking woman watching the parade looked at me and mouthed the words, “Thank you for your service.” One cannot imagine how that gracious act of kindness changed my life, outlook and attitude forever.
Someone out there thanked me for my service! So things were changing!
Service organizations, such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and The Marine Corps League play an important part in veterans’ lives. Also, more individual units are gathering for reunions now than ever before. The Internet now makes it possible to re-connect with long-lost buddies and wartime units. Vietnam veterans’ organizations now socialize with their families and share common concerns and understanding.
Some organizations like Honor Flight provide World War II veterans a trip to our nation’s capital to view the memorials. See http://www.honorflight.org. What an amazing act of thoughtfulness and kindness! It’s free to our veterans, but the experience is priceless. Things are changing! (The effort is worthwhile, given that we are losing our WWII veterans at a rate of 600 or more daily).
Most veterans understand that some people are totally disconnected from the military experience. Those who serve and sacrifice go unnoticed to this segment of the population.
However, I believe this group is dwindling. Thank God for our public school teachers and administrators who support JROTC units. I frequently see teens now working at Veteran’s Day activities.
Veteran’s Day parades and activities are more popular and veterans notice this. However, the best thing to offer to a veteran is a simple, “Thank you for your service, and welcome home.”
Sid Orr is a Vietnam veteran who served 34 years in the military. He is a member of the Marine Corps League of Woodstock.