Veterans Day fell on Saturday this year so the three UNC ROTC units had their joint ceremony on Friday the 10th of November. I have attended these ceremonies each year that we have lived here because it gives this not-so-old veteran a chance to participate in honoring America’s veterans. About 100 people gathered or stopped for a moment to witness what I think is our community’s only ceremony.
This year’s ceremony featured one of UNC’s own, Walter Spearman Professor Emeritus for the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Chuck Stone. He was drafted out of college in 1943 and served as a famed Tuskegee Airman.
In his remarks, Stone talked about the Veterans Day parades that he viewed in his youth. Those ceremonies and parades that remembered the WWI armistice and were conducted at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month were grand affairs. Stone said that he remembered standing there proudly as his WWI veteran-dad marched by.
I too remember parades on Veterans Day. They were big deals and the local community turned out in force. Local leaders riding in spiffy cars from a local dealership, high school bands, military marching units, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, and a host of others added to the color of the day. I even marched in a few myself and remember the feeling you get when you hear the cheers of the crowds. Where have the parades gone?
Today, not only does our community not have a parade, but if we do any Veterans Day marching, it is to the nearest mall to participate in the day’s sales. Veterans Day seems to be a “holiday” that causes us great inconvenience at best or benign neglect at worst. After all, some government offices are closed, the banks are closed, and the kids are out of school.
The other thing that bothers me is that we seem to want to morph Veterans Day into another Memorial Day, the day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. November 11th of each year is set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our veterans, and not just those who are deceased.
One of my friends said that he thought that the decline in interest in Veterans Day might be caused by the fact that with the war, the nation is creating too many veterans right now, and some of them are seriously injured. With a totally volunteer force, it might be plausible to think that our citizens would want to honor those veterans, since unlike in the past, the government didn’t force them, their family members, or friends to serve.
Doing a quick Internet search for Veterans Day parades and other ceremonies that were held across our nation, I discovered that the day’s unpopularity must be a function of where we are. Small towns and big ones had parades and grand ceremonies, including over the way in Raleigh.
I appreciate the anti-war feelings that we find locally. Heck, the most anti-war people that I have ever known were those who served in uniform with me. So why is the veteran held to blame for a war he or she didn’t ask for or champion? Are there any local veterans who have the power to alter or refocus US foreign or military policy? Of course not, but the symbolism is very powerful.
After I returned from that Friday ceremony, I discovered that a release went out calling for a demonstrating against the Army’s new recruiting station on our Franklin Street. Why is having this renter take over an empty property a bad thing? Because the renter is the Army and it is looking to recruit four or so of our kids a month. Note that now, if our kids want info on military service, the closest station is in Durham.
The coalition of groups call to action asked students, youth, and community members to stand up to the new Army recruiting station, the continued occupation of Iraq, and U.S. threats against other nations and speak out against this new recruiting station. Why? The new station is seen as a blatant attempt to pull more youths and students into the U.S. war machine and the occupation of Iraq.
Lump every problem all together, make the veteran a symbol of evil, then go out and protest a recruiting office. What happened to making distinctions? I suspect that most of the 10,000 or so veterans in Orange County have mixed, but fixed opinions. Being free to have different opinions is what we veterans fought for and continue to fight for. Freedom isn’t free and freedom is what this nation is all about, and that’s a good thing.