Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks, Once Again

Thanks are always worth repeating, so today's post is a rerun of 2011's Thanksgiving message. For reasons unknown, this little item has attracted a very large number of viewers from  outside the United States. Thus, it seems appropriate to again send it out into the electronic world.

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A Great Day, Indeed 

Today is America’s best celebration.  Thanksgiving truly is for everyone.  It is not part of any specific religious tradition; it is for all to enjoy.  For this one day, we can cast aside worries about the future and focus only on the good things that have happened in our past.

I am thankful that I was born in a prosperous nation and have lived a long and generally pleasant life with the freedom to chart my own course. Through good and bad times, many people have supported and guided me. I appreciate all of them, especially Sandy, my beautiful wife.

I am thankful that my family does not want for food, shelter, or love.  Today we will be together. That is the best thing of all.

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Santa Takes Back Seat to Vets

Santa Claus arrived in Kalamazoo on Saturday (much too early to suit me and many others) as thousands attended the annual Holiday Parade. The jolly one got lots of appreciative oohs and aahs as he was escorted by 11 marching bands and a variety of floats, but he was not the star of the show in southwestern Michigan last week.

Santa clearly lost the appreciation contest to the U.S. military. Active G.I.s and veterans were showered with gifts starting the weekend before Veterans Day (Tuesday).  Free meals and discounts on all sorts of goods and services continued in some cases right up until Santa grabbed the next weekend spotlight.

November 11 observances have undergone a transformation during my lifetime. Originally,  "Armistice Day'" marked the end of World War I. It was a day of reflection and a time to honor those who gave their lives or were crippled in the conflict.

When I was a youngster, people observed a moment of silence at 11 a.m., when the treaty ending the war was signed. Everyone was encouraged to make a donation to the American Legion Auxiliary in return for a red "remembrance poppy," a paper creation we wore all day in honor of the dead soldiers buried in France. The Legion ladies used poppy donations to benefit disabled veterans or other vets or their families known to be in need. I remember my Dad encouraging me to drop a nickel or dime in the collection can as he explained the significance of the poppies.

Armistice day was important in my family. Dad, his two brothers, and my Mom's brother all served in WWI. One of my uncles came home from France permanently disabled from effects of a gas attack. Another returned with a Croix de Guerre medal awarded by the French government for bravery.

As fewer World War II vets remain alive, they get lots of love. (Associated Press photo)
All died years ago. There are no veterans of World War I  alive today in the U.S. The old Armistice Day customs, however, continue to some extent. Church bells still ring at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 in a small town near us. Veteran firing squads still launch volleys marking the time. Although I've not seen a remembrance poppy worn for several years, there may be places where they are available.

Wikipedia tells us that remembrance poppies remain common in other nations, especially the UK, and there the day to honor those who gave their lives in battle is titled Remembrance Day. That seems appropriate because the U.S. played a relatively small role in World War I, where trench warfare produced wholesale slaughter.

The U.S. didn't enter the five-year conflict until almost the final year. Casualties totaled 320,000. That seems like a lot, but consider that British Empire dead and wounded totaled more than 3 million and French casualties topped 6 million. Some 37 million people from all participating countries were killed or wounded in the horrific struggle. The U.S. military casualty total was much higher in World War II--more than a million.

During World War II, Armistice Day began to morph into Veterans Day. Informal observances using the new name started in 1947. In 1954, Congress officially recognized Veterans Day, declaring it a national holiday and a time to honor all veterans.

I was discharged from the Army in 1960, and don't recall any wholesale changes in observances until fairly recently. The old Armistice Day traditions simply continued under a new name. Veterans usually were respected, but not always. Many Vietnam War vets complained about shabby treatment when they came home from the killing fields in Indochina.

If anything, recognition and tangible rewards for veterans declined. My brother-in-law and other Korean War vets pointed out that monuments in city squares omitted them. Supposedly, that was because Korea officially was a "police action," not a war. The nation's biggest veterans' organization, the American Legion, refused membership to thousands of veterans of my era, a practice continuing today. An ungrateful government reduced or eliminated some veterans' benefits for us as well. On Veterans Day, a vet might be thanked for service with a fee doughnut or cup of coffee in a few places, but those were about the only tangible gifts from private people that I remember.

Everything seemed to start changing after the 9/11 attacks. Suddenly, those cups of coffee became free meals.  A huge variety of businesses began to offer 10 percent or more price reductions to veterans. Because some hotels and motels gave room discounts, the proverbial "three hots and a cot" provided to active duty G.I.s could once again be enjoyed by veterans. Offering gifts to vets seemed to take on a snowball effect, and it hasn't stopped yet.

I think this Denny's ad deserves an award for salute creativity.

This year lists of free or cut-rate offerings on Nov. 11, and sometimes throughout the week, were easy to find. It was a "take your pick" situation.

I was right there picking. With our continuing home remodeling project far from completion, it was a great time to get needed items available at leading big box stores for 10 percent off. While on the track of some special items, my son and I were near a Denny's restaurant, so I claimed one of my favorite things--a free "build your own breakfast." In the evening after more discount shopping, beautiful wife Sandy and I visited Applebee's where I enjoyed a free steak dinner.

Just for fun, I added up the total value of my Nov. 11 discounts and freebies. The gifts were worth $111.30. And I didn't even have time to get the free haircut or car wash offered by businesses near my home.

By coincidence, my biggest paycheck in the U.S. Army was $111.00 a month. It usually lasted about two weeks. Maybe payback time finally has arrived? Thanks to all the "thankers" who back up their words of gratitude with material gifts. You, too, deserve a salute.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Picture of Contentment

Who is she? A satisfied Republican following last week's route of the electoral opposition? A smug Packers fan after last night's gridiron trashing of their arch rivals, da Chicago Bears?

Neither of the above. It's beautiful wife Sandy taking a break during a retreat titled "Your Life Unplugged" at Yarrow Golf and Conference Center. Yarrow is one of Michigan's most scenic and elegant spots, a great place to spend a few days gaining inspiration and developing a feeling of satisfaction.

Son Lee's fiancée, Karen Vogelmann, made most of the arrangements for the retreat. It was a major task, but it paid off . Some 25 ladies loved it, judging from post-meeting comments. The event was so successful that plans immediately went into effect for a repeat next year.

This photo by one of her new-found friends suggests Sandy will return to Yarrow in 2015.