Veterans Day Musings

Friday, November 11, 2011, 15:41 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Maxine - Veterans Day 2007I begin this post with the cartoon to the right (click the image to view larger). I love Maxine, and I love self-deprecating humor, and I love veterans, so it seemed appropriate. No disrespect is intended by the humor.

Today is Veterans Day, a federal holiday that traces its roots to the first anniversary of the armistice ending the fighting of the first World War. On November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson spoke of “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.” Congress passed a law in 1938 officially establishing Armistice Day and another in 1954 renaming it Veterans Day. A holiday for a similar purpose is observed in British Commonwealth countries and is known as Remembrance Day, the main difference being that Remembrance Day honors those who died in military service, whereas Veterans Day honors all military veterans, living and dead.

I always take this opportunity to think of members of my family who have served in the armed forces. The most recent are my cousins Jon and Tania, both active duty Army officers: Jon is a veteran of the Afghanistan War, Tania served in Bosnia. But there have been many others as well. One of my father’s cousins volunteered for two tours of combat duty in Vietnam. Two uncles, both now deceased, served during wartime, one in the Air Force at a nuclear missile installation in North Dakota during the Vietnam War and another in the Army in Europe during the Korean War (having lied about his age so he could enlist at age 17). Another uncle served during peacetime after Korea. My grand-uncle fought in World War II and returned shell-shocked, what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. One of my mother’s cousins was a Bataan Death March survivor. Going way back, my great-great-grandfather was a Civil War veteran, having been wounded while fighting on the Union side during the Battle of Port Hudson. Innumerable friends have served as well, some currently on active duty or in the reserves or National Guard. Now my son’s friends are serving, including one who is a Pentagon naval officer whose brother and sister are officers in the Air Force and Army, respectively.

I am not unique in feeling a personal connection to veterans known and unknown. My Facebook feed today is loaded with friends’ tributes to their military friends and loved ones, as well as gratitude to those who have served. One friend, a Canadian musician (who happens to have the same name I have), posted a message of thanks to all Canadian soldiers. Down the street from my office, the AHL’s Worcester Sharks hockey team is playing a matinée game with free admission for those with military ID. Yesterday, my employer held a veterans recognition event to honor our own employees who have served; it was well-received and promises to become an annual event.

Wherever you are today, please take a moment to remember people in your life who have given of themselves in military service. If they are still alive, visit or call them and thank them.

In conjunction with yesterday’s ceremony, we held a sock drive for the local homeless shelter run by Veterans Inc. Apparently, socks are the number one needed item in shelters, and when we approached Veterans Inc. to ask what we might be able to donate, that’s what they asked for. It makes sense, if you think about it—when people clean out their closets and drawers looking for used clothing to donate to charities, they come up with coats, pants, sweaters, etc. But we tend to wear our socks until they have to be thrown out. We ended up with several large cartons stuffed full with socks that will go to good use.

I served on the planning committee for the veterans recognition event, which means that in addition to attending, I also had lots of behind-the-scenes tasks to take care of. Among my assigned roles was to find the old patriotic decorations that everyone seemed to think still existed somewhere in the building, and determine what we could still use. With some help, I put my hands on a dozen tri-color banners that would have been perfect had they not been yellowed from years (decades?) of storage in less than ideal conditions. With the help of Woolite® and OxiClean® (that stuff really works, even if Billy Mays was a raving druggie lunatic), I managed to whip them into shape, press them, and provide them to our facilities staff Wednesday morning to be hung up later that day. After going over where and how they should be hung, my final word to facilities was, “Make sure the red hangs on the left. This isn’t Bastille Day.”

The remark elicited some chuckles, but it also got me thinking about the many other countries whose flags are the same colors as ours. When we Americans hear “red, white, and blue,” we automatically think of the Stars and Stripes. But those are the colors of several other nations too, including France (“bleu, blanc, et rouge”). Off the top of my head, I thought of the other Anglophone countries of the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand; the Caribbean nations of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico; and the mega-nation of Russia. It turns out they are just the beginning.

According to the World Flag Database, there are 29 national flags whose sole colors are red, white, and blue. That includes all shades of blue, from light blue (Luxembourg) to the darkest navy blue. There are other flags that are predominantly red, white, and blue, but if they have even the tiniest bit of another color (such as Croatia and Slovenia), they I don’t count them. (The gold fringe that sometimes adorns the edges of ceremonial flags doesn’t count, either.)

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