I hope that during this week that includes Veterans Day, you have taken time to honor veterans. By this I do not mean just taking advantage of all those retail deals and discounts so loudly presented on TV and elsewhere.
Like our other holidays, it is helpful to be reminded of some history of this day in order to really appreciate its meaning and significance and, in particular, to differentiate it from other days of recognition.
On Nov. 11, 1918, after four years of trench warfare in Europe, a treaty was signed ending World War I. The treaty of Versailles marked the end of what was hoped to have been the war to end all wars. Soon after, the U.S. instituted Armistice Day, a national holiday to remember the sacrifices of WWI soldiers. Only a few years later, in 1954 following World War II and the Korean War, Congress changed the holiday’s name to Veterans Day, changing its purpose and scope. It became a day that allows Americans to remember and honor the sacrifices of all soldiers who have served in our military.
A lot of people wrongly think it’s “Veteran’s Day” or “Veterans’ Day.” The day is not a day the “belongs” to one veteran or multiple veterans, which is what the apostrophe would imply. It is a day for all to honor all veterans, so no apostrophe needed. Since many Americans get them confused, it is also important to eliminate the confusion with Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a time to remember those who gave their lives for our country, particularly in battle or from wounds suffered in battle. Veterans Day honors all of those who have served in war or peace.
As a pastor and a person who has severed in the military, I readily acknowledge that Veterans Day is not an official religious holiday. Just like New Year’s Day, Mother’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and others, it is not part of the liturgical calendar. I am also aware many of our church members are veterans and with those currently serving are worthy of recognition by and support of their church communities.
Without making a theological statement regarding war, in our church community, we take a few minutes within our service on the Sunday before Veterans Day to recognize all who are or have served. We do this with a visual presentation highlighting those currently serving and veterans. The presentation includes pictures if we have them. It often includes the person at the time of their service and then more recently, sometimes with family members.
Pictures can bring remembrances and sometimes chuckles. For some of us remembering and having others see us when we were thinner, had more hair, and youthful faces, can be a mixed blessing. This is one way for the church community to say we remember, we respect, and we care.
I close with a timeless statement by a veteran.
“Now, Therefore, I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, president of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, Nov. 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain. I also direct the appropriate officials of the government to arrange for the display of the flag of the United States on all public buildings on Veterans Day.” Proclamation 3071 — Veteran’s Day, 1954
Given current restrictions created by the pandemic, recognitions are of course very different this year. But one good way to continuously honor our veterans is to be a good citizen, participate in our democratic process, fight for justice, and pray for our nation.
Robert J. Gustafson, Ph.D., P.E, is pastor of West Berlin Presbyterian Church, 2911 Berlin Station Road.