Veteran’s Day: Why We Remember

 

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

World War I was a ghastly conflict with tens of millions of men slaughtered in all the horrors that war in the industrial age was capable of mustering.  After the War which ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Veterans Day was set aside on November 11 to honor those men who had fought with courage for their country.  In our country Veteran’s Day eventually came to honor all those who had served in the military.  As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “It is all together fitting and proper that we do this.”  Why it is important that we do that I will leave to Father Francis P. Duffy who served as a chaplain with the Fighting 69th in France in World War I.  You may read prior posts about him here and here.  Father Duffy was a man of faith and courage, so much courage that it was proposed that he be nominated for the Medal of Honor until he laughed at the idea.  His leadership skills were so valued that General Douglas MacArthur even briefly considered placing him, a chaplain, in command of the 69th, which would have been a first in American military history.  When the 69th got back to New York after the War Father Duffy wrote about its reception and why it was important to honor the men who had served, and, especially, the silent victors who remained in graves in France: (more…)

Published in: on November 11, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Veteran’s Day: Why We Remember  
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Veterans Day: John 15:13

“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”

Epitaph on the Memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Division at Kohima

 

War is a curious part of the human condition.  It is a summary of the worst that Man is capable of:  violence on a massive scale, cruelty, greed, hatred, and the magnification of every human vice.  Few of us are more “anti-war” than most of those who have had the misfortune to fight in one and witnessed all the folly, loss and endless pain produced by the inability of men to frequently resolve their differences without resort to the sword.  Yet, in war we also see men rise to the heights of what we are capable of at our best:  self-sacrifice, courage, love and the magnification of every human virtue.  War as the direst of human institutions is to be bitterly regretted, but we must ever pay homage to those who find themselves in this terrible maelstrom and acquit themselves with honor. (more…)

Published in: on November 11, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Veterans Day: John 15:13  
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Gratitude

A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.

John Stuart Mill

 

 

 

On May 23, 1865, the 80,000 strong Army of the Potomac marched happily through the streets of Washington on a glorious spring day.  For six hours they passed the reviewing stand, where President Johnson, the cabinet, General Grant and assorted civilian and military high brass, received the salutes of, and saluted, the men who had saved the Union.  Most of the men had hated the Army, and were overjoyed to be going home, but for the rest of their lives they would remember this day and how all the death and suffering they had endured over the past four years had not been in vain after all.    Almost all of them were very young men now, and many of them would live to old age, future generations then having a hard time picturing them as they were now:  lean, battle-hardened and the victors of the bloodiest war in the history of their nation.  When they died iron stars would be put by their graves, and each Decoration Day, eventually called Memorial Day, flags would be planted by their graves, as if to recall a huge banner draped over the Capitol on this day of days:

The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers. 

The men they had fought and defeated would never be forgotten by most of the Southern people they had fought for.  In years to come the Federal government would propose that it take over the maintenance of the graves of the Confederate dead.  The proposal would be politely declined on the grounds that as long as there were women in the South those graves would never go untended.

In time, our bloody Civil War became a source of national reconciliation, almost all Americans taking pride in the vast courage of the men on both sides who fought for what they believed was right.  Union and Confederate troops began holding joint reunions in the 1880s, and North and South shed their blood together in the Spanish American War:

Pride in our veterans has carried over to our other conflicts, with a shameful lapse in this attitude during the Vietnam War:

Gratitude is a wonderful virtue, just as ingratitude is a despicable vice.  In this Vale of Tears, this place so often of tumult and strife, good and evil are ever in contest.  And so we remember our veterans.  Everything we enjoy, our veterans gave to us, often at a high price for themselves. Our safety, our prosperity, and most importantly, our freedom, were all made possible by their blood and sacrifice. They made a world where this nation stands tallest among all others, and a world where all men, even if they still groan under a tyrant’s rule, know of the American promise of freedom. When our veterans signed up, they knew what high price their duty might demand to protect our homes and our loved ones. They answered the call, paid the cost and we are ever in their debt.

Published in: on November 11, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Gratitude  
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November 10, 1923: Woodrow Wilson Armistice Day Address

 

The things you find on the internet.  A radio address by former President Woodrow Wilson, just over a little more than two months before his death, on November 10, 1923.  This was the first remote, live, national broadcast, and was considered to be an example of the use of cutting edge technology at the time.  For Wilson, a man born prior to the Civil War, it must have seemed to sum up the technological marvels he had been witness to during his life.  The substance of the speech is rather predictable, Wilson deploring the rejection of the League of Nations by the US.  Here is the text of the brief address:

 

 

The anniversary of Armistice Day should stir us to great exaltation of spirit because of the proud recollection that it was our day, a day above those early days of that never-to-be forgotten November which lifted the world to the high levels of vision and achievement upon which the great war for democracy and right was fought and won; although the stimulating memories of that happy time of triumph are forever marred and embittered for us by the shameful fact that when the victory was won, be it remembered–chiefly by the indomitable spirit and ungrudging sacrifices of our incomparable soldiers–we turned our backs on upon our associates and refused to bear any responsible part in the administration of peace, or the firm and permanent establishment of the results of the war–won at so terrible a cost of life and treasure–and withdrew into a sullen and selfish isolation which is deeply ignoble because manifestly cowardly and dishonorable.

 This must always be a source of deep mortification to us and we shall inevitably be forced by the moral obligations of freedom and honor to retrieve that fatal error and assume once more the role of courage, self-respect and helpfulness which every true American must wish to regard as our natural part in the affairs of the world.

 That we should have thus done a great wrong to civilization at one of the most critical turning points in the history of the world is the more to be deplored because every anxious year that has followed has made the exceeding need for such services as we might have rendered more and more evident and more and more pressing, as demoralizing circumstances which we might have controlled have gone from bad to worse.

 And now, as if to furnish as sort of sinister climax, France and Italy between them have made waste paper of the Treaty of Versailles and the whole field of international relationship is in perilous confusion.

 The affairs of the world can be set straight only by the firmest and most determined exhibition of the will to lead and make the right prevail.

 Happily, the present situation in the world of affairs affords us the opportunity to retrieve the past and to render mankind the inestimable service of proving that there is at least one great and powerful nation which can turn away from programs of self­interest and devote itself to practicing and establishing the highest ideals of disinterested service and the consistent maintenance of exalted standards of conscience and of right.

 The only way in which we can worthily give proof of our appreciation of the high significance of Armistice Day is by resolving to put self-interest away and once more formulate and act on the highest ideals and purposes of international policy.

 Thus, and only thus, can we return to the true traditions of America.

Published in: on November 14, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 10, 1923: Woodrow Wilson Armistice Day Address  
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Why Do We Honor Veterans?

 

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today 

Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Division at Kohima

 

Sometimes simple questions can help illuminate great truths.   Why do we honor veterans?

 

One veteran of World War I, CS Lewis, perhaps can help us understand why we honor veterans.  Lewis served on the Western Front as a Second Lieutenant in 1917-1918 until he was  wounded on April 15, 1918.  Lewis, the future Oxford Don, was an unlikely soldier and he wrote about his experiences in the War with humorous self-deprecation.  However, he had immense respect for those he served with, especially the enlisted men under his command, for their good humor and courage under the most appalling circumstances.  His war experiences had a vast impact on Lewis, as can be seen in his Screwtape letters, where Lewis writes about war.

In the fifth letter Screwtape admonishes junior tempter Wormword not to allow the sight of human suffering in war to allow him to believe that the war makes Wormword’s task any easier.

For it has certain tendencies inherent in it which are, in themselves, by no means in our favour. We may hope for a good deal of cruelty and unchastity. But, if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self. I know that the Enemy disapproves many of these causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.

Most of us dread death.  Members of the military in war time have to set aside their fear for causes greater than themselves.  It brings to the fore that very precious virtue:  courage.

We have made men proud of most vices, but not of cowardice. Whenever we have almost succeeded in doing so, the Enemy permits a war or an earthquake or some other calamity, and at once courage becomes so obviously lovely and important even in human eyes that all our work is undone, and there is still at least one vice of which they feel genuine shame. The danger of inducing cowardice in our patients, therefore, is lest we produce real self-knowledge and self-loathing with consequent repentance and humility. And in fact, in the last war, thousands of humans, by discovering their own cowardice, discovered the whole moral world for the first time. In peace we can make many of them ignore good and evil entirely; in danger, the issue is forced upon them in a guise to which even we cannot blind them. There is here a cruel dilemma before us. If we promoted justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy’s hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces (for He permits it to produce) a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor.

Lewis theorizes that the virtue of courage is perhaps why God created the world as dangerous as it is:

This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world—a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.

A gentleman I know was a Marine during the battle for Hue in 1968.  He told me that he was absolutely terrified throughout, often vomiting from fear, and regarded himself as a coward even though he was decorated for bravery after the battle.  Then he told me he read this passage in the Screwtape letters and truly understood courage for the first time:

I sometimes wonder whether you think you have been sent into the world for your own amusement. I gather, not from your miserably inadequate report but from that of the Infernal Police, that the patient’s behaviour during the first raid has been the worst possible. He has been very frightened and thinks himself a great coward and therefore feels no pride; but he has done everything his duty demanded and perhaps a bit more.

We honor veterans because for a time in their lives they risked, or potentially risked, their lives for us.  Not all veterans of course are heroes, old news for most veterans, and most veterans who serve never see combat, but the potential risk was always there during their service.  Most veterans at that point in their life personified the virtue of courage, the ability of we mere mortals to rise above our fears and terrors, and that always deserves to be honored.

Published in: on November 12, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Thanks

When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today.

Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Division at Kohima

 

Published in: on November 12, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Thanks  
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Every Day Is Veterans Day

 

 

Something for the weekend.  Eternal Father.  Today I have the honor of delivering the Veterans Day speech in my village of Dwight.  The speech was written by  my son, Donald John McClarey, who was sworn in as an attorney on Thursday, and who will be joining me to work our law mines.  Here is the text of the speech:

 

It is the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. Ninety-nine years ago today, the guns on the Western Front fell silent and World War One ended. After such a great and terrible war, it was only natural that this day became a holiday. Woodrow Wilson proclaimed today Armistice Day in 1919 and thirty states made it a state holiday that same year. In 1938, this day became a national holiday by act of Congress. In 1954, after World War Two, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, to honor all the veterans of all of America’s conflicts.

 

Falling as it does on the day World War One ended, a war that has so greatly shaped our world, as so many of our conflicts in the last century and beyond have, in a sense it is fitting that a holiday celebrating all veterans should be held today. However, in a larger sense, in a far greater sense, is there really only one particular day when we should honor our veterans? No, there is not. In reality, every day is Veterans Day, because the actions and sacrifices of our veterans mark every day we live. They have made the world we live in, and we must ever thank them for what they did for us, both at home and throughout the Earth.

 

 

This sounds perhaps overblown, but it is really just a statement of fact. Who is fighting the Taliban and ISIS? Who fought Communism and won the Cold War? Who fought the Nazis and the Empire of Japan? Who fought the Civil War? Who won our independence? The answer is always the same: veterans, American veterans. Most of them ordinary men, and sometimes ordinary women, at first blush no different from anyone you would meet walking around Dwight, who decided to do something extraordinary and stand up for the ideals this nation was founded on, to defeat tyranny and defend liberty, both here and abroad. These ideals are best summed up in the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 

 

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These words have always had an immense impact, with the sheer weight of what they promise to all of us, to all mankind. But it is all too easy to imagine worlds where these words are just empty, high-sounding ink on an old piece of parchment, no more important to us than a scribble on a post-it note that we have crumpled and thrown away. It scarcely bears imagining, worlds where the Declaration and everything it promised would be seen as just a historical curiosity, or, at worst, trash, consigned to the forgotten past by those who rule our world. In order to appreciate what our veterans have accomplished, let us imagine such bleak alternate worlds where the truths of the Declaration were defeated.

 

 

Imagine the Declaration under glass in a British museum displaying documents from a failed American colonial revolt in the 1700s, that was just a minor disturbance on the road to breaking the Thirteen Colonies to the distant will of London. Or, in another world, the Declaration being displayed in a different exhibit, one on the founding documents of a failed republic that tore itself apart over slavery in the 1860s, first in two, then into more fragments of a great nation, as secession became a valid option for any grievance, and states fled a failing Union. Or, worst of all, the Declaration being burnt to ashes as Fascist or Communist armies paraded through our streets, ushering in a new era of hideous nightmares for all mankind.

 

 

The last world is unquestionably the most terrifying because in our world those ideologies murdered hundreds of millions of people and terrorized billions more during the past century. One can only imagine the horrors that would have been unleashed in a world where their madness and evil ruled supreme, bringing all that misery and bloodshed right to our homes, to our families. I have no doubt most of us know loved ones who died fighting in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. I’d like you all to join me in a brief moment of silence for them and for everyone who has died because of those murderous ideologies they confronted.

 

 

But we, thankfully, do not live in any of those worlds. We do not live in those worlds because the generations here, and the generations before, did not let them come to pass. Veterans of the past and veterans of today, embodying that which is best in all of us, stood and fought on countless battlefields to preserve the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, bringing us the peace and freedom we enjoy in this country today.

 

 

We live in a world where America stands for freedom. Let me repeat that sacred word: freedom! Many in this day and age like to scoff at that assertion, but we know that no other nation enjoys such a bonding to that noble ideal. Our veterans and their deeds are living proof of that. If anyone looks at the battles they fought, and why they were fought, they will know that America fights for freedom. The victories of our veterans were not just victories for our freedom, but for the freedom of all humanity.

 

Men and women throughout the globe do not look to Britain, Germany, Canada, Mexico, or any other nation to serve as beacons of liberty, beacons for the rights of all. They look to America because they know that throughout its history American soldiers have always striven to uphold those ideals. And so, going back to the beginning of this speech, every day is Veterans Day, because every day we live in the world they made, under God, and for this our veterans deserve every honor we can bestow.

 

 

Everything we enjoy, our veterans gave to us, often at a high price for themselves. Our safety, our prosperity, and most importantly, our freedom, were all made possible by their blood and sacrifice. They made a world where this nation stands tallest among all others, and a world where all men, even if they still groan under a tyrant’s rule, know of the American promise of freedom. When our veterans signed up, they knew what high price their duty might demand to protect our homes and our loved ones. They answered the call, and we are ever in their debt. And so on this day, and on all days, we should thank our veterans, not only for their service, but for all we have. May God bless and cherish our veterans, and the country which they have so nobly served.

 

Published in: on November 11, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Every Day Is Veterans Day  
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October 24, 1977: Last Veterans Day in October

 

Due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act Veterans Day was celebrated on the fourth Monday in October in 1971-1977.  Veterans’ groups were appalled and the date was shifted back to the traditional November 11 in 1978 where it has remained.

On September 20, 1975, President Gerald Ford, a Navy combat veteran of World War II, signed the law returning Veterans Day to November 11:

I HAVE signed into law today S. 331, a bill which will return the annual observance of Veterans Day from the Fourth Monday in October to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supports the expressed will of the overwhelming majority of our State legislatures, all major veterans service organizations, and many individuals.

Under a law enacted in 1968, the fourth Monday in October was designated for the observance of Veterans Day. Since that law took effect, it has become apparent that the commemoration of this day on November 11 is a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens. It is a practice deeply and firmly rooted in our customs and traditions. Americans have appreciated and wish to retain the historic significance of November 11 as the day set aside each year by a grateful nation to remember and honor those, living and dead, who fought to win and preserve our freedom.

I believe restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 will help preserve in the hearts and lives of all Americans the spirit of patriotism, the love of country, and the willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good symbolized by this very special day.

 

Published in: on October 24, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 24, 1977: Last Veterans Day in October  
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Thank You

 

(I originally ran this post back on Veteran’s Day 2010.  I have updated it and am running it again since the passage of time renders it more urgent.)

Time is doing what the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese could not do:  vanquishing our World War II generation.  The youngest American veteran of that conflict would now be 88, and in the next fifteen years or so they will all be in eternity.  Time now to express our heartfelt gratitude for what they accomplished for the country.  They have been called the greatest generation.  I am sure that most of them would reject that title, maybe putting in a vote for the generation that won the American Revolution or the generation that fought the Civil War.  Modesty has been a hallmark of their generation.  When I was growing up in the Sixties, most of them were relatively young men in their late thirties or forties.  If you asked them about the war they would talk about it but they would rarely bring it up.  They took their service for granted as a part of their lives and nothing special.   So those of us who knew them often took it for granted too.  Uncle Chuck, he works at the Cereal Mills, and, oh yeah, he fought in the Pacific as a Marine.  Uncle Bill, he has a great sense of humor and I think he was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered to MacArthur.  When they talked about the war it was usually some humorous anecdote, often with some self-deprecating point.  They’d talk about some of the sad stuff too, but you could tell that a lot of that was pretty painful for them, so you didn’t press them.  They were just husbands and fathers, uncles and cousins.  The fact that the janitor at the school won a silver star on Saipan, or  the mayor of the town still walked with a limp from being shot on D-Day, was just a normal part of life, like going to school or delivering papers. (more…)

Published in: on November 11, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Thank You  
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The True Meaning of Veteran’s Day

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

When I was a boy there was a middle aged man who walked with a pronounced limp around our neighborhood.  The rumor around among the kids of the neighborhood was that he wasn’t right in the head and that he was a drunk.  His face was disfigured and we kids called him gympie, although, mercifully, not to his face.  One day I remarked to my father that we called this man gympie.  My father rarely got angry, but he did on that occasion.  He told me that man was a hero.  He had served in the Army during the Korean War, had been captured by the Chinese and had been tortured by them.  They had broken his right leg repeatedly and had used branding irons on his face.  He never gave in to them and would not tell them anything but his name, rank and serial number.  By the time he was exchanged at the end of the war his health was destroyed and his mind had been shattered by his experiences.  He returned to his home town and was cared for by his parents.  The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars in town had annual collections for him to supplement his Army pension so he would never be in financial need.  By the end of this recitation I was in tears.  That day taught me the true meaning of Veteran’s Day:  service above self. (more…)

Published in: on November 11, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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