What did you do Thursday? Most of the country would respond with some banter about work and errands. Most students at Oswego State would reply they went to classes and got some other work done. Only a few of us probably remembered it was Veteran’s Day, except perhaps to grumble about not getting the day off.
Veteran’s Day was known for years as Armistice Day, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In other words, Nov. 11, 1918. Because it originally commemorated the end of World War I. Although the holiday was expanded to honor all veterans, the date has remained.
The especially vigilant among us might have noticed in passing that Veteran’s Day never falls on the same day, such as Washington’s Birthday and Memorial Day. The holiday is on Nov. 11 every year, not the first or last Monday of November. This exception in grade school meant Veteran’s Day never guaranteed the long weekends kids craved. In the 1970s the federal government tried to change Veteran’s Day into a long weekend by moving it to a Monday, but soon switched it back after protest from veterans groups and citizens alike.
It is meant to preserve the historical significance of the day and focus attention on the veterans, rather than the day off. It seems for most of us it is too much work to take time off to commemorate Veteran’s Day, but it is unlikely there would be a swarm of people invading American Legions and Veteran of Foreign Wars to honor our veterans even if we had the day off. Therein rests the great tragedy of the whole thing. Our generation, those born at the tail end of the last century, needs to look to those who have come before for inspiration and guidance now more than ever. This is especially true in the case of the World War II veterans, aptly called "The Greatest Generation." They grew up during the Great Depression, fought a world war and won. They have witnessed the juggernaut of change in our society. Culture and more noticeably technology have changed so fast we can barely keep up. It stifles the imagination to contemplate how they keep up. While "The Greatest Generation" may have reached its zenith long ago, we still need to learn from them, and that means honoring their accomplishments.
The 91-year-old former prisoner of war who was shot down over Germany still feels a sense of duty to vote in elections. The 87-year-old foot soldier who survived The Battle of the Bulge still gets up every day and carries out a laundry list of tedious chores that would make most young people cringe. These are the last of "The Greatest Generation" and as they slowly fade away, we have to ask how we can serve their memory. How can we make ours into a generation even they would envy? We have no "Great" wars to win, no "Great" depression to overcome and no bustling economy to reward our sacrifices. Instead, we are faced with stagnation, indifference and uncertainty. We are faced with an even greater challenge than any generation before us. How do we continue the legacy of America? The answer to that question, and the plethora of others that will inevitably confront us in the coming years and decades, might be obvious. While we should all honor the great sacrifices, Americans of yesterday made and attempted to learn from them, we should be looking ahead to the great future that will be ours.
What did you do Thursday? Most of the country will respond the same way. We should be asking ourselves a different question, though: What will you do tomorrow?