(This article first appeared in the November-December 2016 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
Every year on Nov. 11, Americans celebrate Veterans Day to honor the millions of men and women who have served, or are serving in our nation’s Armed Forces.
Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day to commemorate the truce signed between the allies and Germany in World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. America first celebrated Armistice Day in 1919. All business was suspended for two minutes starting at 11 a.m. and parades and public gatherings were held to honor the occasion. Later, unknown soldiers were also honored on Armistice Day, a tradition that continues today. At 11 a.m. every Veterans Day, a Color Guard ceremony represents all branches of the military at the Tomb of Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1954, President Eisenhower officially changed the name to Veterans Day following a national campaign to dedicate the day to honoring all veterans, not just those who served in World War I.
In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, moving the holiday to the fourth Monday in October so federal employees could enjoy a longer weekend. The law went into effect in 1971, but in 1975 Veterans Day was returned to Nov. 11, due to the date’s historical significance.
Americans often confuse the meaning of Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Both holidays honor the men and women who have served in the military, but Memorial Day honors America’s war dead, while Veterans Day honors all American veterans, living and dead.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are currently more than 21 million military veterans living in the United States; more than 16 million of them served during wartime, while 5.5 million served during peacetime only.
The sacrifices of our veterans have been great. They are separated from their families while serving at home and abroad. They spill their blood on foreign soil. They have been injured, have lost limbs, been blinded and burned. They have watched buddies die on the battlefield; have suffered the effects of toxic burn pits and chemical agents; they endure post-traumatic stress disorder, and commit a staggering 20 suicides per day.
They have sacrificed for little pay and no individual recognition. They serve for the love of country – giving us our freedoms. Because of veterans, we are allowed to protest and speak freely. We are permitted to choose our occupations, have uncensored access to the media, and enjoy so many other rights that we take for granted.
It was the sacrifices of veterans that clinched the abolition of slavery. It is veterans who secure our nation through global engagements, veterans who help contain the spread of deadly diseases, and veterans who respond at home to national crisis and disaster.
As we celebrate all veterans, past and future, let’s remember our obligations.
Taking care of our veterans and their families is a sacred responsibility that we must always uphold. We can do better. Help veterans in need. Demand our veterans receive prompt, free, quality medical care for their service-connected disabilities; that they have access to their earned benefits and housing instead of leaving them on the streets.
Let’s honor them by giving them jobs so they can provide for themselves the way they provided for us. We can start by ensuring the USPS adheres to its responsibility to widely publicize job vacancies – advertising job opportunities internally and externally (EL 312 Section 223.11-12). We must demand that the Postal Service meets its obligations to provide delayed and reopened testing to qualifying veterans, and allow individuals serving in the Armed Forces to make early applications prior to discharge (EL 312.7).
We should be creating new opportunities so our veterans can continue to make a difference in this world. To learn more and to enroll to stay apprised of veteran issues, visit UnionVeterans.org.