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This Weekend, Remember: Memorial Day Is NOT Veterans Day

Sunday, May 28, 2017, 20:33 EDT Leave a comment

Memorial-Day

It happens every year. Someone, on TV or radio or just in conversation, calls on Americans to thank soldiers and veterans for their service during Memorial Day weekend. Some people will correct that error, or so they believe, saying that Memorial Day is a day to remember all deceased service members. I am of the opinion that every day is an appropriate day to acknowledge soldiers and veterans, dead or alive. And we have a holiday for specifically that recognition. It just isn’t in May.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, here is the history of Memorial Day:

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. […]

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

While Memorial Day is a uniquely American holiday, other nations observe a similar remembrance day. In fact, that’s what it’s called: Remembrance Day. Originally called Armistice Day, it takes place on November 11, the date the armistice ending hostilities in World War I went into effect. Remembrance Day is observed in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other nations that were part of the British empire during World War I. The United States originally observed Armistice Day as well but later changed it. Again, according to the VA:

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.

And how you know that Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor not veterans in general, but those members of our armed forces who died in war. The next time someone gets it wrong, you can set them right.

Categories: history, holidays, military

Oratorical Greatness: The Gettysburg Address

Tuesday, November 19, 2013, 10:59 EDT Leave a comment
Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address

One of only two known photographs showing President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address

Today marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. Widely regarded as one of the finest speeches in our nation’s history, it was delivered by Lincoln at the ceremony dedicating the Gettysburg National Cemetery, one of about 180 military cemeteries now run by the United States government in 41 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

With the exception of Arlington National Cemetery, Gettysburg is arguably the country’s best known military cemetery. Like Arlington, the Gettysburg cemetery was established during the American Civil War to bury the enormous number of Union dead. Unlike Arlington, Gettysburg is located in the small southern Pennsylvania town where those there interred died in the bloodiest battle of the 4-year war. Between both sides, nearly 8,000 were killed and more than 27,000 wounded over just three days of fighting.

The Battle of Gettysburg was waged from July 1-3, 1863. Notwithstanding the casualties, it was a Union victory and the turning point in the war. The national cemetery was dedicated 4½ months later, on November 19, 1863. The President’s speech was not the centerpiece of the dedication program. That distinction went to Edward Everett, a former Massachusetts congressman, senator, and governor who had also served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom and, briefly, Secretary of State. Everett’s speech weighed in at more than 13,500 words and took two hours to recite. Lincoln’s remarks were a mere 270 words and were read in just a few minutes.

Contrary to the President’s prediction, the world does remember what he said at that ceremony. His words are remarkable in their simplicity and perfect in their recognition that the dedication of the graveyard was a mere formality.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Categories: history, military

Things That Make You Go “Hmmmmm…”: British Royal Edition

Friday, September 7, 2012, 23:20 EDT Leave a comment

Never mind that nekkid, wild, partying Prince Harry. There’s a bigger scandal brewing for the Prince of Wales’ spare.

For reasons that might or might not be related to Harry’s recent Las Vegas indiscretions, His Royal Highness, who is also an officer and a helicopter pilot in the British Army, has been deployed to Afghanistan. I was reading one newspaper’s coverage of the prince’s deployment, complete with quite a few pictures of Harry in camo.

There’s gesticulating Harry alongside another soldier, smooth Harry giving thumbs-up for the camera, focused Harry in the cockpit, wary Harry on patrol, smiling Harry sitting in a makeshift bunker, hungry Harry spooning food from a foil packet, wistful Harry looking…

Wait, a minute, what was THAT?

Either The Sun fell victim to a brilliant photoshopping scam, or there’s something terribly wrong in Her Majesty’s armed forces:

Prince Harry noshing

Need a hint?

Prince Harry's hat

Seriously, I think this is much more embarrassing than the full frontal shots from Vegas. What in the world was he thinking?

Another POW Comes Home

Friday, March 9, 2012, 18:21 EDT Leave a comment

Staff Sgt. Ahmed AltaieSomehow, I missed the news for 11 days. But earlier today, while reading announcements of war casualties on the U.S. Department of Defense web site, I learned that my adopted POW was dead. I read the details at the Army Times:

A Shiite extremist group handed over a simple wooden casket containing the remains of the last U.S. soldier missing in Iraq, a prominent Iraqi lawmaker said Monday, drawing a close to a case that has anguished the American’s family since his 2006 disappearance.

Shiite lawmaker Sami al-Askari, a close ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the remains of Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaie were turned over last week as part of a prisoner exchange agreement between the Iraqi government and the militant group Asaib Ahl al-Haq.

The Pentagon confirmed Sunday that it had recently received remains that were verified as Altaie’s. But al-Askari’s comments provide the first confirmation that Asaib Ahl al-Haq, an Iranian-backed insurgent group, was responsible for the 2006 kidnapping of Altaie after the Iraqi-born soldier sneaked out of the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad to visit his wife and family on a Muslim holiday.

Al-Askari said Asaib Ahl al-Haq last week acknowledged killing Altaie within a year of his October 2006 abduction. He said he did not know exactly when Altaie was killed.

Before I took it off this afternoon, I had worn Staff Sgt. Altaie’s bracelet since early autumn of 2009, when it was still hoped that he was alive. I put it on just a few weeks after removing U.S. Navy Capt. Scott Speicher’s bracelet, which I wore from January 2004 until his remains were brought home in August 2009. With the exception of the brief time between bracelets, that’s more than eight years of wearing a stainless steel bracelet 24 hours a day without interruption. It wasn’t exactly a fashion statement, and it didn’t always look good when I was dressed up for weddings, dinner-dances, or other formal occasions. But I believed, as I know others who still wear bracelets going back as far as the Vietnam war believe, that the act of never removing it was a small act of solidarity with the service member, who couldn’t “take off” his captivity for special occasions. It was also a reminder that the families of POW-MIA service members are never really free until their loved ones return, alive or dead.

Altaie POW bracelet

The POW bracelet I wore for Staff Sgt. Altaie, showing (front) his name, rank at time of capture, date of capture, and (back) home state and status

Staff Sgt. Altaie, an Iraqi-born American citizen whose family moved to Michigan when he was a teenager, was a hero in every sense, serving both the country of his birth and his adopted country at the same time. Even as an armed soldier, his work as an interpreter made him literally a bridge of peace and understanding between the American reconstruction teams to which he was assigned and the Iraqi people they worked with. I had often worried aloud for his safety, knowing that as much as Islamic terrorists hate Americans, they hate even more Muslims who collaborate with Americans. Apparently, he was aware of the risks but didn’t allow them to deter him in fulfilling his service or living his life. Indeed, when he was captured, he was believed to have been headed to the home of his in-laws to spend time with his Iraqi wife, whom he had married after the fall of the Saddam Hussein government but before he joined the Army Reserve.

The Defense Department press release of February 27 noted that, with the war in Iraq officially over, Staff Sgt. Altaie is “the final…casualty to be recovered from the Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn mission.” The U.S. armed forces now have only one service member confirmed held as a prisoner: Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, U.S. Army, who was captured by the Taliban in the summer of 2009. Sgt. Bergdahl is known to have been alive as recently as late last summer, when he escaped, only to be recaptured after three days.

I haven’t decided yet whether I will now wear Sgt. Bergdahl’s bracelet. I’m 0-for-2 with POWs, and frankly I don’t know if I can get that emotionally invested again. What I will do, regardless, is pray: for eternal life for Staff Sgt. Altaie, for strength and safety for Sgt. Bergdahl, for the consolation of the Altaie family and the comfort of the Bergdahls, and for all who await the final return of their loved ones from past wars. Alive or dead, everyone deserves to come home.

Categories: military, remember

Veterans Day Musings

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

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.)

Free Speech for All Speech

Thursday, March 3, 2011, 15:22 EDT 1 comment

We’ve all seen the news stories about the Westboro Baptist Church. They’re the small group of hateful people who go around the country protesting at military funerals holding signs that express such un-Christian sentiments as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates Fags.” Charming, isn’t it? So much for wondering What Would Jesus Do.

After the Kansas “church,” which consists primarily of Fred Phelps and members of his family, held such signs outside the funeral of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq, the father of the deceased sued Phelps and won. Yesterday, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling in a decision from which only Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

The majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, along with a concurring opinion by Justice Steven Breyer and Alito’s dissent, can be read here, and I encourage you to do so, as it contains not only the facts of the case and the history of the litigation, but also the reasoning behind the court’s decision. Supreme Court decisions are like maps through the thought processes of the justices and how/why they decided as they did. In this case, I find it impossible to adequately encapsulate the whole thing in a couple paragraphs, so instead I quote Roberts’ closing paragraph:

Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, movethem to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stiflepublic debate. That choice requires that we shield West-boro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.

Alito responded that, “In order to have a society in which public issues can beopenly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner.” But brutalization is exactly what a deeply offended person feels. The Constitution contains no guarantee of freedom from speech; in the absence of threats or slander, offense shouldn’t be (and, according to the court, isn’t) enough to warrant the government’s stepping in to punish the offender.

I detest what the Phelpses do as much as anyone, and I am very glad indeed that folks like the Patriot Guard Riders step up across the country to shield mourners of our military dead from such vitriol. But the Supremes got it right. If we accept limits on freedom of offensive speech, we endanger the freedom to say anything the least bit controversial, since someone somewhere is bound to be offended. The fact that most people are offended by the Phelps family’s rhetoric is the very reason why the court needed to rule as it did.

People tend to think that freedom and liberty include the right not to be offended. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Real liberty means that we must actively protect speech (and sometimes actions) we abhor, because that’s the only way to guarantee that at another time, place, and circumstance, the government won’t try to silence us.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

Categories: law & justice, military

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Is Not Necessary

Tuesday, November 30, 2010, 14:44 EDT Leave a comment

So says the Department of Defense working group that studied the issue, in their report just released on the Pentagon web site.

A change in the law that bans gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military can be implemented without irreparable harm, the co-chair of a Pentagon working group that studied the matter said yesterday.

That conclusion seems intuitive and could have been reached without much study, it seems to me. I have long believed that if some members of the armed forces would allow negative personal feelings about homosexuality to hinder the performance of their sworn duties, the problem is with themselves, not the gay members. Anyone who can’t or won’t do his or her job because of distaste for a particular characteristic of a co-worker doesn’t deserve the job.

That said, I haven’t had a chance to do more than quickly glance at the report, since I’m currently at work. I will look look over it, read sections of it in greater detail and comment over the next few days.

Categories: military

Honoring Veterans

Thursday, November 11, 2010, 09:17 EDT Leave a comment

On this Veterans Day, I want to recognize by name a few living veterans who are close to me. Please join me by honoring the veterans you know.

  • Jon, my cousin, a career Army officer who recently completed a one-year deployment in Afghanistan
  • Tania, his wife, also a career Army officer and a veteran of the Bosnia conflict when she was assigned to NATO
  • Edie, an Army Reserve nurse who recently completed an overseas deployment
  • Eddie, my father’s cousin, who served a tour of duty in Vietnam and then volunteered for another
  • Billy, a town friend, college classmate, and career Marine aviator who was among those flying on the first night of Desert Storm
  • Scott, whom I met through my mother, an officer in the Vermont National Guard who served a one-year deployment in Iraq
  • Randy, my next-door neighbor when I was growing up, a veteran of World War II who fought in the Battle of the Bulge
  • Patrick, a former co-worker who enlisted in the Army Reserve, served a year in Kuwait in the early years of the Iraq war, and when his enlistment was up, enlisted in the Air Force Reserve
  • Sgt. Ahmed Altaie, an Army translator who was captured by terrorists in Iraq four years ago and whose POW-MIA bracelet I wear

Thank you all for your service to our nation.

Categories: holidays, military, remember

It’s Marine Week Boston

Monday, May 3, 2010, 17:43 EDT Leave a comment

U.S. MarinesThousands upon thousands of extremely well-conditioned men (and women) descend en masse upon the birthplace of the American Revolution this week.

In uniform, no less. God bless America.

If I weren’t emotionally attached, not to mention old enough to be most of their mothers, I’d take a day off to go Marine fishing.

But seriously, there is lots going on through Sunday. Check it out, have fun, and take a moment to thank some of our nation’s very best for the job they are willing to do on our behalf.

‘Tis the Season to Be Nice to a Soldier

Thursday, December 10, 2009, 16:00 EDT Leave a comment

Military personnel have a special place in my heart. Several of my college classmates completed the ROTC program and received commissions when they graduated; some of them remain in the service. I have worn a POW-MIA bracelet since 2004, first for Capt. Scott Speicher and now for Sgt. Ahmed Altaie. I still maintain web sites I started after the start of the Afghanistan war in memory of American and international casualties and in honor of American military missing and captured. My son has friends in the military, including one who was killed in action in Iraq. I am a Soldier’s Angel and currently have two adopted service members, one soldier and one Marine, to whom I send letters and packages.

Besides all that, my cousin and his wife are both active duty Army officers. He deployed to Afghanistan last summer, and even though he is not in a combat role, we are understandably concerned about him. Kabul isn’t the safest place in the world at the moment. So I was thrilled to see this video message to his parents, my aunt and uncle, showing Jon looking and acting great.

To Jon, Bill O., Tom, Chrissy, Ramon, Joshua, Bill V., Ahmed, and all others serving, the Den Mother and many others have you in our thoughts and prayers this Christmas.

Categories: christmas, military