As the grandchild of a career U.S. Navy, Pearl Harbor Survivor who fought in all the major battles of the Pacific, the daughter of a Vietnam Era U.S. Army Drill Sergeant, and family of those who served in all branches of the service, I am honored to be crafting this November piece to commemorate Veterans Day.
November is known as Military Family Month, a time when we celebrate the contributions and sacrifices made by not only our service men and women, but the families of our U.S. Armed Forces. The U.S. Marine Corps Birthday falls on November 10th, and of course Veterans Day falls on November 11th – the anniversary date of the signing of the armistice which ended World War I and the day when we thank all veterans for their service.
There are some who confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day and Armed Forces Day, many thinking they are interchangeable though each is different, yet equally as important in remembrance. Veterans Day honors all who served. Memorial Day honors those who paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their lives for our country, and Armed Forces Day celebrates those who serve today.
Across our country, soldiers and sailors are commemorated and honored in a myriad of ways. There is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a historic funerary monument dedicated to U.S. service members whose remains have not been found. There are memorials and military sites such as the U.S.M.C. War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, African American Civil War Museum, Arlington National Cemetery, Women in Military Service for America Memorial, Fort Myer, National World War II Memorial, and the National Museum of the US Navy – all in Washington DC. And there are also private displays of honor, such as the presentation of the U.S. Flag at a funeral with military honors. Maybe you’ve attended a reenactment, intended to educate our youth, and ensure we never forget the price that was paid for what we have today, or a ceremony held in honor of veterans.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, noted above, is manned by The Guard of Honor. Their assignment includes keeping 24/7 vigil at this national shrine while upholding the highest standards and traditions of the U.S. Army and our nation. Soldiers were first assigned to the Tomb in 1926 to keep it safe from disrespect or harm of any kind. In 1937, the guards became an around the clock presence, standing watch over the tomb. To witness the changing of the guard is awe-inspiring, from the precision with which they move to their unwavering concentration and focus. An interesting piece of information that I learned while serving as a guardian on an Honor Flight is that the guard cannot divert their attention from their duty and as a show of respect to the veterans whom they pass, they scuff their heels while marching by.
Another poignant gesture is the Missing Man Table, also known as the Fallen Comrade Table. If you’ve ever attended a military ball or ceremonial event or visited local restaurants that either have ties to the military or deem it important to show respect to them, you may have seen a table set for one. It is common the United States, especially around one of the commemorative days outlined above. This table is pristine in the set-up, representing the countless men and women in the U.S. Armed Services who never made it home. They may have been killed, remains not found; gone missing, or been imprisoned.
Symbolic in nature, each piece on the table – as well as the table itself – honors those soldiers, those who are not here with us today, but with us in spirit. Never should or will we forget those brave men and women, those who answered our nation’s call to serve – and fought for our freedom with honor.
- The round table shows eternal concern for our missing men and women.
- The white tablecloth symbolizes the purity of their thoughts and actions when answering the call to serve.
- The single red rose that is displayed in a vase is a reminder that their lives and their loved ones are keeping the faith despite their search for answers.
- The red ribbon is a symbol of our eternal quest to account for our missing.
- The slice of lemon represents their bitter fate.
- A pinch of salt represents tears shed by our missing, and their families, who long for answers – always.
- The lighted candle is a symbol of hope – may they return, alive or dead – may the families find solace in any confirmed ending at all.
- The Bible represents strength, strength gained through faith, faith that will sustain us and those lost, as we were founded as one nation, under God, indivisible.
- The glass is inverted because they are unable to share a toast.
- And the chair – empty. That seat remains unclaimed at the table.
May we take a moment today to remember those who served and reflect upon those who never made it home. Despite the current conflicts taking place around our world, let us unite in our remembrance of those who fought for our freedom, the freedom that many sadly take for granted. May we always be reminded of their selflessness, honor, heroism, and sacrifice.
In closing, I’d like to share some facts about Veterans Day not only in the United States, but around the world.
- This day was originally called ‘Armistice Day’, then became a national holiday in 1938 and changed its name to Veterans Day in honor of all U.S. wars.
- This day can be traced back to 1918 when the world anticipated the end of what was known as the ‘Great War.’
- It was not until 1926 when Congress determined that Veterans Day should be a yearly occurrence.
- The Uniforms Holiday Bill was signed in 1968 to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees by commemorating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day, or today, some prefer to honor Indigenous People’s Day.
- From 1971-1977, Veterans Day was celebrated on the fourth Monday of October.
- Women’s Veterans Day, the anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, is commemorated on June 12 and was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman in 1948.
- Every year at 11 am ET, the time the World War I armistice was signed, there is a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place for more than 400,000 service members and their families.
- France – November 11 – Armistice Day – Remembering those who died or were injured in WW1 and other wars.
- Britain – November 11 – Remembrance Day – Remembering all men and women killed during the two World Wars and other conflicts.
- Canada – November 11 – Remembrance Day – Commemorating the sacrifices of people in all armed conflicts.