This month we observe Veterans Day, which is a special holiday first set aside by Congress in 1919. Originally it was called Armistice Day, and declared by President Woodrow Wilson as a day to be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory” of World War I.
After World War II, Alabama veteran Raymond Weeks had the idea to expand the observance to include all veterans, not just the servicemen who perished during World War I. Weeks’ vision of Veterans Day was established as a federal holiday in 1954, and today it is celebrated with observances, ceremonies, school assemblies and parades throughout the nation.
It is fitting that we set aside a national day of observance for military veterans. These are the men and women who participate in parades, funerals, Christmas toy drives, food drives and other community-based programs. These are also the men and boys who went ashore at Normandy in June of 1944; the military nurses who have tended to our wounded since the Revolutionary War; the soldiers and Marines who waded through rice paddies in Vietnam, marched across desert sands in Operation Iraqi Freedom and traversed dangerous mountain passes in the war in Afghanistan.
In some aspects, Veterans Day has obtained more of a commercial aspect to it in recent years. Restaurants offer free meals to veterans, other enterprises offer discounts to veterans and some companies make the holiday another occasion for a big sale.
While I am sure my fellow veterans appreciate the free appetizers and other discounts, I believe the day has much more significance than that, especially to those of us who wore the uniform of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard.
Being a veteran has always held significance and a degree of pride. Even when military service was viewed by some as unpopular during the Vietnam War era, young men and women served their nation with pride and integrity.
After the success of the first Gulf War and the subsequent military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the public has taken a special interest in those currently serving in the armed forces and military veterans. It is not uncommon to see people randomly thanking men and women in uniform, or buying their coffee at the coffee counter.
The Michigan Legislature has made it a priority to work on issues affecting veterans. Current veteran unemployment rates in Michigan are estimated to be more than 30 percent, and we have enacted legislation to help make the transition from military to civilian life smoother. We also have passed bills that give veterans credit for military training they received when applying for licenses in a variety of trades, and have eased the cost of licenses to those who served in uniform.
I will make it a point to thank as many of my fellow veterans as possible on Monday, Nov. 11, which is the day set aside as Veterans Day this year. But I also will continue to shake hands with men and women in uniform, thanking them for their service throughout the year. I also will express gratitude to veterans who have served their nation in times of war and peace. And I urge you to do to the same.
State Rep. Rick Outman is a second-term lawmaker representing the 70th House District.
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