Archive for Thursday, November 4, 2004

Honoring service, sacrifice

November 4, 2004

Lansing Army veteran Mike Howell

Lansing Army veteran Mike Howell

At 5 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918, in the forest of Compiegne, in France, the French Supreme Commander of Allied troops dictated the terms of the Armistice to the German High Command. Six hours later, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, World War I (once called the war to end all wars) was over.

All around the globe, whistles could be heard blowing, shouts of excited pride mixed with those of thanks, and tears of joy flowed as impromptu parades and celebrations erupted.

As we here in the United States marched on into the 20th century with the postwar boom, this one day, although not officially sanctioned by the government, remained special in the hearts of the people, and there were parades and demonstrations throughout the country. It took nearly 20 years for Congress to finally enact legislation declaring each Nov. 11 "shall be dedicated to the cause of world peace and : hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day."

As history has shown us, WWI was not the war to end all wars as hoped; in fact, the world was embroiled in a second World War during the first half of the 1940s. At the end of it, there were millions of new veterans who continued to honor the Armistice Day holiday. Then in 1953 in Emporia, Kan., Alvin J. King convinced this small town to have a "Veterans Day" celebration, rather than the traditional Armistice Day that had been celebrated for the past 35 years. He invited Congressman Ed Rees, who was so impressed with the festivities that he returned to Washington and initiated legislation to have the name of the holiday officially changed. President Dwight D. Eisenhower's signature on May 24, 1954, made the bill law.

Nov. 11 would stay Veterans Day for the next 14 years. It is those years that I think I remember the fondest of this special day. This was a day in which everything stopped. Stores were closed, schools were let out and parades and celebrations were the order of the day. I recall the pride I felt as a young Cub Scout as I marched in a parade to Town Square, knowing that just a few hundred feet in front of me, wearing his World War II uniform, my dad was marching. Once we arrived at the City Park where the festivities were held, speeches (that I didn't truly comprehend the importance of) were made, and a seven-member rifle squad firing three rounds each, then that sad, sad sound as my dad placed the bugle to his lips and at precisely the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month taps would echo throughout the square as an honor to those veterans who were not fortunate enough to be at home with us.

As a young Scout, the exciting part was collecting the expended brass shells and then having the honor of going into the VFW Hall. There, under the watchful eyes of the veterans, I would help clean and put away those rifles.

In 1968, in an effort to create more three-day weekends, Congress changed Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. I know that times were changing, as more and more stores were open before on this holiday, but I believe that this was the final straw to ending Veterans Day as I knew it in my youth.

Veterans groups argued long and loud trying to get this day changed back, and one of the biggest arguments I recall hearing was "wouldn't those many men on both sides of the trenches of World War I have loved to have seen the war end on the fourth Monday of October?"

Finally in 1978, it was changed back to Nov. 11; however the damage was done.

No longer do we see all the stores and schools closing in honor of Veterans Day. Gone are the Veterans Day parades and big celebrations in every single community throughout this great country of ours. In its place, for the most part, is a holiday in which, unless you are a government or bank employee, chances are you are going to be working. Veterans Day is just like any other day to the rest.

We here in Leavenworth County are fortunate in that we have passing through the streets of Leavenworth one of the finest parades dedicated to veterans held anywhere in the United States. We are reminded of the service to country that our forefathers bore for us, as well as the service to country that members of our community have given.

Mike Howell, a Lansing resident since 1990, retired from the Army as a first sergeant after serving almost 21 years. He is the senior vice commander and the military assistance program chairman for the Lansing VFW Post.

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