"In order to insure 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. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible." — President Eisenhower, October 8th, 1954
Before we can review the history of Veterans Day we first have to look back at World War I — The War to End All Wars and the armistice that ended that war and led Congress to making November 11th a legal holiday in the United States.
At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War ends. At 5 a.m. that morning, Germany, bereft of manpower and supplies and faced with imminent invasion, signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside Compiégne, France. The First World War left nine million soldiers dead and 21 million wounded, with Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, and Great Britain each losing nearly a million or more lives. In addition, at least five million civilians died from disease, starvation, or exposure.
On June 28, 1914, in an event that is widely regarded as sparking the outbreak of World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was shot to death with his wife by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Ferdinand had been inspecting his uncle's imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the threat of Serbian nationalists who wanted these Austro-Hungarian possessions to join newly independent Serbia. Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the problem of Slavic nationalism once and for all. However, as Russia supported Serbia, an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention.
On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe's great powers collapsed. On July 29, Austro-Hungarian forces began to shell the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and Russia, Serbia's ally, ordered a troop mobilization against Austria-Hungary. France, allied with Russia, began to mobilize on August 1. France and Germany declared war against each other on August 3. After crossing through neutral Luxembourg, the German army invaded Belgium on the night of August 3-4, prompting Great Britain, Belgium's ally, to declare war against Germany.
For the most part, the people of Europe greeted the outbreak of war with jubilation. Most patriotically assumed that their country would be victorious within months. Of the initial belligerents, Germany was most prepared for the outbreak of hostilities, and its military leaders had formatted a sophisticated military strategy known as the "Schlieffen Plan," which envisioned the conquest of France through a great arcing offensive through Belgium and into northern France. Russia, slow to mobilize, was to be kept occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces while Germany attacked France.
The Schlieffen Plan was nearly successful, but in early September the French rallied and halted the German advance at the bloody Battle of the Marne near Paris. By the end of 1914, well over a million soldiers of various nationalities had been killed on the battlefields of Europe, and neither for the Allies nor the Central Powers was a final victory in sight. On the western front—the battle line that stretched across northern France and Belgium—the combatants settled down in the trenches for a terrible war of attrition.
In 1915, the Allies attempted to break the stalemate with an amphibious invasion of Turkey, which had joined the Central Powers in October 1914, but after heavy bloodshed the Allies were forced to retreat in early 1916. The year 1916 saw great offensives by Germany and Britain along the western front, but neither side accomplished a decisive victory. In the east, Germany was more successful, and the disorganized Russian army suffered terrible losses, spurring the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917. By the end of 1917, the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia and immediately set about negotiating peace with Germany. In 1918, the infusion of American troops and resources into the western front finally tipped the scale in the Allies' favor. Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies on November 11, 1918.
World War I was known as the "war to end all wars" because of the great slaughter and destruction it caused. Unfortunately, the peace treaty that officially ended the conflict—the Treaty of Versailles of 1919—forced punitive terms on Germany that destabilized Europe and laid the groundwork for World War II.
WWI was a tribute to the incompetence of European and British leaders and diplomats. It was a war that had been brewing under the surface since 1871 when Germany defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War. It was also a war that collapsed the Russian and Austrian empires, divided Europe into a polyglot of new countries and occupied territories, and brought into being a Communist dictatorship in Russia that would last for almost 80 years. It redrew the map of Africa and the Middle East, brought down the Ottoman Empire dividing the region into cultural and religious factions — something we are dealing with today. The Treaty of Versailles pushed Imperial Japan to become a world power – something the United States would encounter on December 7, 1941. It was these events that brought on a more disastrous war – World War II.
WWI and WWII were celebrated in songs such as “Over There” The Boogie Woggle Bugle Boy of Company B” and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” But to celebrate Armistice Day 1938 Kate Smith introduced the most famous of our patriotic songs, Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” Unfortunately the first part of this song is rarely heard. In 1938 Berlin wrote these lyrics as a prophecy as to was about to become the United States.
“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer."
These lyrics are as current today as they were in 1938. The only difference is that the storm clouds are not in Europe but in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan where so many of our vets are returning from with life-changing traumatic physical injuries and emotional distress (PTSD). Physical battlefield injuries that in previous wars would have been fatal are not due to the great advances in trauma medicine. These vets will require a great amount of life-long care, something the VA has not been doing and needs to do. These men and women have given so much of themselves and deserve not only to be remembered with speeches and celebrations but with quality care.
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."
The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.
The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:
“Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”
An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
Photo at right is President Eisenhower signing the 1954 Veterans Bill
While the holiday is commonly printed as Veteran's Day or Veterans' Day in calendars and advertisements (spellings that are grammatically acceptable), the United States government has declared that the attributive (no apostrophe) rather than the possessive case is the official spelling.
In 1921, President Warren Harding had the remains of an unknown soldier killed in France buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. Inscribed on the Tomb are the words:
"Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God."
On October 4, 1924, at the dedication of the monument to the American Expeditionary Forces in Washington, D.C., President Calvin Coolidge stated:
"They did not regard it as a national or personal opportunity for gain or fame or glory, but as a call to sacrifice for the support of humane principles and spiritual ideals.
If anyone doubts the depth and sincerity of the attachment of the American people to their institutions and Government, if anyone doubts the sacrifices which they have been willing to make in behalf of those institutions and for what they believe to be the welfare of other nations, let them gaze upon this monument and other like memorials that have been reared in every quarter of our broad land.”
I can still recall Armistice Days parades in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio where veterans of both world wars would march along wearing artificial orange poppies on their lapels and handing out these memorials to the assembled crowds. The poppies were a memorial to the poppies that grew in Flanders Field in France where so many men died in useless and ill-conceived battles.
Veterans of WWI and WWII were not cared for in the same manner as today’s veterans are or should be. Many of the WWI vets suffered the aftermath of the poison gas attacks that were used when the trench warfare drew to a stalemate. There was also little or knowledge of PTSD. In those days it was known as battle fatigue in the effects plagued these vets for years. It caused irrational behavior, severe alcohol abuse, and suicide as was the case of on 10th grade biology teacher. In my own family my uncle, a survivor of the Battle of the Bulge suffered from alcohol abuse which affected his family, hampered his employment opportunities, and eventually contributed to his death.
Over the past several years, over 2 million veterans from the post-9/11 generation have returned to civilian life and our communities. Many faced the immense stress of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our nation owes them enormous gratitude, which we must demonstrate in far more than words or symbols. Our veterans deserve the opportunity for personal and professional success long after their military service.
For most, that means having the opportunity to work and move up in the world, a journey that is usually undertaken not as an individual, but as a family. So our national commitment must be to make sure not only that every veteran can find a job, but also that military spouses have a fair shot at building successful careers. Doing so will not only repay a debt we owe, but also deliver enormous benefits to our entire economy.
The good news is that progress has been made to address veteran unemployment. From September 2013 to September 2014 the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was cut from 10.1 percent to 6.2 percent due to both an improving jobs market, as well as focused hiring efforts.
As just a few examples, JPMorgan Chase and over 170 other companies work together as part of the 100,000 Jobs Mission, which is on pace to hire 200,000 veterans by the end of the year, while Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 veterans and spouses by 2018 and is well on the way toward that goal and Wal-Mart has committed to hiring 200,000 veterans by 2020.
In addition to employing veterans, it’s equally important to be aware of and bring attention to their plight as companies such as HBO have done through an effective mix of programming that spotlights their tremendous sacrifices and many contributions.
More must still be done. Nearly 160,000 post-9/11 veterans remain unemployed and their unemployment rate is still above the civilian rate. That is both shameful and illogical. Given the unique skills and attributes veterans offer, their unemployment rate should, if anything, be below the national average. It should be remembered that a 20-year old corporal capable of leading men into battle and being responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of sophisticated military equipment cannot be trusted to make copies on a Xerox machine, perform building security, or run construction equipment.
But even if we reach the goal of full employment for veterans, it wouldn’t be sufficient. Like most American families, most military spouses choose to seek work outside the home for reasons both financial and personal. Yet too often they face daunting obstacles.
Military families must frequently relocate. That forces spouses to face constant searches for new jobs, along with forfeiture of seniority and advancement opportunities, and the loss of state-based professional certifications and licenses.
In essence, every time the military sends a service member a transfer notice, his or her spouse must restart their career path from square one. That burden, which is inherent in military service, largely explains why a recent survey found that 90% of military spouses report that they are underemployed and earn less than their civilian peers.
To address this problem, we need to start by making a national commitment to military spouses. The Department of Defense has created a platform for doing so in the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), which helps connect spouses to job opportunities. Already, tens of thousands of spouses have found opportunities through that system, but more companies need to get involved.
We must also do more to help military spouses address the challenge of frequent relocations. One way is by encouraging employers to share information about job applicants from the military community. Recently, some members of the 100,000 Jobs Mission created the Military Talent Exchange, a portal that allows businesses to pass around resumes so that military spouses on the move can find jobs in new markets.
Job portability is another area that requires more exploration. No company can guarantee that all jobs will follow a military spouse wherever they go. But efforts must be made to accommodate such moves as best we can and look for ways to make jobs as portable as possible.
Training and education are another part of the solution. Again, flexibility is the key. One innovative idea comes from the Institute for Military and Veterans Affairs at Syracuse University, which provides free on-line job training programs. By allowing participants to access the program anytime, anywhere it is uniquely suited to the needs of military families.
In order to make the investments necessary to scale these and other programs, employers must recognize that this is not about charity. Hiring veterans and military spouses is an investment that offers a tremendous return. The U.S. military does a better job than just about any organization on the planet at creating a culture of teamwork, adaptability and dedication to mission. That culture forever changes veterans and the spouses who share the experience of service.
These men and women can achieve great things in civilian life. When we give them the opportunity they so richly deserve, then they can help us all build a country and an economy that is more resilient, more team-oriented and more generous of spirit. Every veteran I ever hired when I was running land surveying firm proved this in spades.
Photo at right is the entrance to the Medal Of Honor Wall at the Riverside National Cemetery, Riverside, California
The former CEO of Procter & Gamble is clearing house and reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs after the wait-time scandal broke this year. VA Secretary Robert McDonald plans to fire up to 1,000 people, hire 28,000 more health care workers, and insists on calling the veterans who come to the VA "customers" as a sign of commitment to them, not the bureaucracy. Of the people who are expected to get the pink slip, "The report we've passed up to the Senate Committee and House Committee has about 35 names on it. I've got another report that has over 1,000," McDonald said. "We're simplistically talking about people who violated our values." And of those values, McDonald continued, "It's integrity, it's advocacy, it's respect, it's excellence. These are the things that we try to do for our veterans." This is obviously smoke and mirrors. If Barack Obama was really interested in veterans' health, he would not have pulled out of Iraq without a SOFA ahead of his 2012 election
In short, our veterans and their spouses will do for our economy what they have already done for our national security – make it stronger.
As John Adams stated in his 1808 letter to Benjamin Rush: "Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives." It can be said that those who subscribe to Adams’ beliefs without hesitation are our veterans and current serving military.