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Keeping Veterans Day Alive

by Ed Hooper on Oct 29, 2009

Two months ago, Jacksonville was threatened with cancellation of its 2009 Veterans Day parade after the city council cut the parade’s funding. Only a firestorm of protests from the Florida city’s residents restored the parade.

Jacksonville is not alone. Similar stories about cancellations or threatened cancellations erupted in newspapers across the nation this year. New York, Pennsylvania and California city officials cut back on observances of the holiday, citing waning interest and declining participation.
Veterans Day is in fact a peculiar holiday. Many public schools, colleges and universities remain open – even with thousands of veterans sitting in their classrooms. Businesses operate normally. State and local governments are not required to close. Such signs of business as usual give city officials what they believe they believe is reason to cut funds for Veterans Day events. Some even shamelessly request veterans’ organizations to cover the costs of police and sanitation workers’ overtime. Such municipalities say appropriations are better spent on holiday events and parades that make money.
November 11 was originally known as Armistice Day to commemorate the 11th day at the 11th hour of the 11th month when World War I supposedly ended with the stroke of a pen. It became an official day of observance in the United States in 1926 and a national holiday in 1938. For decades, American school children marked it with a moment of silence at 11 in the morning. On June 1, 1954, Congress changed the name from Armistice to Veterans Day to honor all U.S. veterans.
Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” in 1968. It moved Veterans Day and three other Holidays to increase the number of long holiday weekends for federal employees. But Americans overwhelmingly said no to moving the date of Veterans Day. So in 1978 Congress returned Veterans Day to November 11.
But now many communities want to de-emphasize Veterans Day. This is no way to treat the 23 million men and women among us who have served or are serving their country in uniform.
For example, joining the ranks of those citizen veterans this year is U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Richard Poolaw of Oklahoma, who recently returned from his third tour in Iraq. Poolaw is a third-generation soldier and grandson of 1st Infantry Division 1st Sgt. Pascal Cleatus Poolaw Sr. – a Kiowa recognized as the most decorated American Indian in U.S. military history. He earned more than 40 decorations, including five Bronze Stars and four Silver Stars; he received three Purple Hearts – one each in World Waar II, Korea and Vietnam. He voluntarily came out of retirement to serve in Southeast Asia. He posthumously earned the last Silver Star after he was killed in combat near Loc Ninh, Vietnam, on Nov. 7, 1967.
It’s a story little known, but military legacies similar to that of the Poolaws can be found all across this nation. Sacrifices like that of 1st Sgt. Pascal Poolaw are often forgotten by cities, states and others, in both the private and public sectors. But to millions of American citizens, Veterans Day is a family celebration of patriotic service to this country that reaches across the generations and all ethnic and religious divides.
Low troop morale has destroyed armies throughout history. Americans know they must improve morale at home to do so abroad. These men and women in uniform 1are citizen-soldiers. After enlistment terms end — regardless of award, rank or whoever happens to be president — there are no real guarantees for jobs, homes, college educations or decent medical care without the vigilance and support of the American people to make sure that promises made to all veterans are kept. Veterans reenter the society that they protected and preserved as regular citizens and hammer out a life with the rest of us – often at a disadvantage because of the time they took from their civilian lives to make that personal sacrifice for the nation’s safety and welfare.
So it’s insulting, unpatriotic and unacceptable for cities to ask struggling veterans’ organizations to fund municipal services for parades on Veterans Day. Schools and universities should close and retail businesses should not open their doors until the ceremonies and parades are ended. It’s a day when partisan politics should be shoved aside so communities can gather for a few hours on a city street without distraction and honor the brave men and women among us who risked their lives to protect this nation. They don’t “deserve” this respect. They earned it.

Ed Hooper is an author and journalist from Knoxville, Tenn., and a writer for the History News Service, who specializes in military affairs and historical preservation.