Tomorrow, November 11 is Veterans Day, a federal holiday, dating back to the First World War. It was originally called Armistice Day to mark the armistice that ended hostilities between the Allies and the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires which was signed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 on a rail carriage in the Compiegne Forest in France. It original purpose was to honor all soldiers who had died in that conflict from 1914-1918. In 1954 Congress passed legislation to rename the day as Veterans Day to honor all veterans of war living and departed. This distinguishes it from Memorial Day which is very much a commemoration of members of the military who died in time of war.
Veterans have often been overlooked or ignored or forgotten by the very societies they served through their military service. That was particularly painful for veterans of the Vietnam War who did their duty for their country in what turned out to be such a divisive and bitterly argued over conflict. Rather than returning home to welcome and recognition many came back to vilification or misunderstanding. It took over 20 years before Vietnam War memorials were proposed and erected or that Vietnam vets were welcomed to march in annual parades. It was the same in Australia as it was here. Sadly, it also took many years before injuries from Agent Orange and what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome were properly recognized, treated and compensated. In other words, many vets have had to do it hard and have had to put up with bureaucratic run arounds as well as public apathy to their plight. One of the realities I find quite shocking in a society like ours which prizes the military and the service they give to the nation is that there are far too many veterans in the ranks of the homeless and the marginalized and among those who come to our Soup Kitchen on a regular basis.
So, on this Veterans Day let us not only give thanks for all our veterans who have served their country often in highly stressful and dangerous situations but actually thank a real live veteran whom we know or can identify. But even more importantly let us keep the pressure on members of Congress and others in the political realm to treat our veterans with the respect and support they have earned and that they need.