Fort Shafter Mural VOC veterans day

A mural at Fort Shafter, HI, painted in 1943, depicts WWII soldiers in the Pacific Theater.

This year, Veterans Day, November 11, 2019, is the 100th anniversary of a holiday established to honor living members of the U.S. Armed Services and those who have served. A century ago, it was declared “Armistice Day”, and set on the date when, “on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th year,” World War I came to an end. In Europe, everyone laid down their arms, and the killing stopped.

On that first Armistice Day a hundred years ago, Wallowa County celebrated joyously. It was, the Record Chieftain reported, “a cross between Fourth of July and Christmas. The morning was sharp and bright. There were fire crackers popping everywhere.” There’s little wonder that the first Armistice Day would be a cause for celebration here. Although WWI ended on November 11, 1918, the Record Chieftain reported that even as late as July, 1918 as many as 50 Wallowa county men per month were being drafted into the army, and many saw service in the war’s final savage battles.

That first Armistice Day was a joyous celebration of peace and of the living veterans who had fought so hard under brutal conditions. “At 11 o’clock the great event which the day commemorated was celebrated by the blowing of whistles in the town….supported by a locomotive at the railroad station.” In the ensuing parade, Civil War veteran W.G. Locke, carrying Old Glory, led the parade. The Record Chieftain noted, “Noise-making instruments of all kinds were permissible for the breezy celebration.” There was even a football game between the Chief Joseph and La Grande American Legion posts, followed by a huge community potluck and a dance that lasted long into the evening.

Today’s Veterans Day (the name was changed in 1954) celebrations tend to be more solemn affairs, rightly expressing respect for the dedication and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. But the service of the living veterans we honor on November 11, 2019 is no less critical and no less important than those who fought for freedom and the American Flag a century ago in WWI or 75 years ago in WWII. Whether their service was in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, some other far flung outpost, or whether they served in a non-combatant role stateside, every single one, and every single member of their families, have dedicated all or part of their lives to service, keeping America free and the rest of us safe.

And so, on Veterans’ Day, consider how you might serve those who have served us. “Thank you for your service” is a nice thing to say if it comes from your heart. Some veterans may feel this comment is too often disingenuous and a sort of rote phrase. If you tell a vet that, say it with feeling and mean it. Here are some other suggestions. Get to know a veteran if you don’t already, and if they need help with transportation, or dog sitting, or fence building or even baby-sitting, pitch in and help. Many veterans get their medical care through the Veteran’s Administration. But this is a paperwork and red-tape maze, with lengthy waits, long drives to Walla Walla and beyond for care, and huge frustrations at every turn. If you know a veteran who is wrestling with this seemingly heartless care system, take time to listen, to learn, to help if you can, and certainly to write to our congressional representatives to support VA health care reform. And lastly, take time just to contemplate what –and in fact if—this country would be without their service.

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