On November 11 each year we observe Veterans Day to honor all military men and women of the United States who have served in the past and who currently serve.
President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed an observance of Armistice Day on November 12, 1919. Wanting to commemorate the actual day of the signing of the treaty to end World War I, Congress requested in 1926 that the day of tribute and remembrance be set for November 11. Signed into law (specifically Act 52, Statute 351, 5 U. S. Code, Section 87a) the act was approved on May 13, 1938. Since then November 11 (or for a period of time, a day near November 11) of each year has been set aside as a legal holiday in which Americans recognize the value of freedom and those who won and maintain it.
In 1953, a veteran named Al King of Emporia, Illinois, promoted Armistice Day as a day to honor all veterans, not just those who had fought in World War I. A bill was introduced to Congress, passed and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (himself a decorated general and a veteran) on May 26, 1954. The word "Armistice" was changed to "Veterans" on November 8, 1954. Since September 20, 1975, when President Gerald R. Ford signed a law declaring that the observance would be held on the actual day—November 11—of the signing of the Armistice, Veterans Day has not moved about to gain the convenience of a "long weekend" off from work. America has kept November 11 as a time to thank veterans for their unselfish service and to remember outstanding events in the battle for freedom.
For almost two years now I have had almost daily contact with veterans. Most of you know that my beloved husband, the Rev. Grover D. Jones, who served admirably in the U. S. Navy during World War II, has been a resident of the Georgia War Veterans Home in Milledgeville. Now in a skilled nursing unit of the Vinson Building, his daily needs are met by a staff who see their job as a calling. I am grateful that the facility is available to Georgia veterans who need the care.
Others and I have been greatly concerned that 81 of the mobile (still able to walk and care somewhat for themselves) veterans in the Wheeler Building domiciliary unit were given notice to find another place to live by November 30, 2008. Today's local paper stated that most of them have found new places to live before the deadline set for their evacuation.
The sad commentary on this situation, to me, has been that "no funds were available in Georgia's tight budget" to care for these 81 veterans. In talking with several of them, I learned that their small monthly stipend would not allow for rent and other living expenses, and many of them did not have relatives with whom they could live. Would these veterans be put out on the street, homeless and forgotten, with little thought of their care during their declining years?
My cry on Veterans Day is that Georgia and America should find ways to care for those who were willing to give the supreme sacrifice for our country. Those who returned from war are often crippled in mind or body. The cruel streets and bridge shelters of America are no place for them to have to lay their heads. Indeed, it is time we reconsider our priorities on this Veterans Day, 2008. I offer the following original poem in tribute:
Autumn for the Veterans
It is autumn for the veterans.
Like falling leaves their lives
Ebb out into the great beyond.
No fight is left.
Their battles behind them now
They may have nightmares about Anzio,
Storm Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands,
Bivouac at Guadalcanal or Peleliu.
They may relive the trauma of Normandy beachhead
To set a day in history: D-Day, June 6, 1944,
Many were at the Battle of the Bulge,
Tens of thousands of young soldiers
Barely out of boot camp
Facing the enemy head-on.
In this autumn of their lives fears return,
Play on the dark wall of memory
Where courage again meets the enemy,
Fellow soldiers fall on foreign soil,
Where cities built from civilization's cradle
Crumble in the ruins of war
And innocents are set adrift or meet untimely deaths.
In the Pacific Enola Gay bore "Little Boy"
And Hiroshima was laid to waste.
Three days later, as if more destruction ordained the victory,
Nagasaki fell, scattered and scorched by splitting atoms.
"What did we do?" the veterans ask.
The question comes in midnight watches,
In noonday's red and purple fire,
In twilight's clouds like huge mushrooms
Hovering and smothering.
It is Autumn for the veterans.
Spring and Summer with their red-hot battles are past.
Purple hearts and silver stars lie in quiet displays,
Mix with golden falling leaves of Autumn.
Winter is very near—
Closer than we know.
-Ethelene Dyer Jones
c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published November 13, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.