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.

21 comments:

Alan G said...

Your mentioning your salary from the Army got me curious about what my salary was in 1962 which was my first full year of service. I grossed $1124 for the year... about $93 a month. When I was discharged in November of 1968 I was taking home right at $380 a month. Life was good...

Dick Klade said...

Alan, considering you also got those "three hots and a cot," I'd say life was very good at $380. Military compensation has become even better in recent years.

Little Bug said...

Nice writing job, as usual!

Tom Sightings said...

We were away last wknd., staying at a B&B where we met a veteran who was getting a free night's stay. More power to him!

I recently have been listening to Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast about World War I. And that led me to watch Kirk Douglas in the WWI movie "Paths of Glory." It's all great, fascinating stuff.

Dick Klade said...

WWI years indeed are fascinating, Tom. We just finished viewing our last tape of PBS season two portraying the history of Selfridge's Department Store in London. The last episodes provided a different view of WWI matters.

Marc Leavitt said...

I enlisted in the army in 1962, assigned to the US Army Security Agencyb (ASA All the Way!), servng three years in Turkey and France.
I earned $163 a month as a Private First Class, plus "three hots, a cot, and a place to squat."
When I reurned home to the "Big PX," I used the GI Bill to help me finish college, and took advantage of a no-money down GI mortgage, to buy my house.
During my last year of service, troops were being transferred by the hundreds to Southeast Asia, but I was unafffected. They still sell the poppies, and when I come upon an old vet (a lot of them, octogenarian WWIIs), I still buy one.

Dick Klade said...

I had forgotten about the "squat" benefit.

PiedType said...

Santa should have taken a back seat. In fact, he shouldn't have been there at all. IMHO, he shouldn't show up till mid-December. As for vets, they can't be honored enough and they should all be honored equally, with equal benefits. (Shame on the American Legion.)

($111 rings a bell for me too. That was the mortgage payment on my first house.)

Dick Klade said...

Our first mortgage payment in 1962 was $77 (another bell-ringer!) After a year, the savings and loan knocked $7 a month off because of our good payment record. Can you imagine something like that happening today?

Dick Klade said...

I've clearly said what I think of the American Legion's membership rules, which prevent many honorably discharged vets from joining. Anyone interested can find those opinion pieces by typing American Legion into the search box in the right-hand column of this blog.

schmidleysscribblins.com said...

Hard to believe you were in the Army and I was a military wife. Where did the time go. I love Santa

Cathie Soli said...

Your mom's brother was my grandfather

Dick Klade said...

Right, Cathie. He was the uncle who won the French medal for bravery.

Dick Klade said...

It is a small world sometimes, Dianne. And time seems to be flying faster lately.

Yolanda Rodriguez said...

Wear them (poppies) every year, not only that, at work we all stand for 1 minute of silence while the church bells ring. It is a big deal here in Canada.

Edward Thorpe said...

Hi Gabby,

As a Vietnam era vet, I thoroughly enjoyed look back at the roots of Veteran's Day.

Good job.
Thanks,
Edward Thorpe

Dick Klade said...

Thank you, Edward. I just looked at your blog site and read lots of interesting stuff.

Darlene Wurl said...

Interesting read, thanks. BTW in last wk's Leader my reminiscence re Veterans' Day was included. You may be interested. Also, I have a letter from my uncle speculating who in their group was to receive the Croix de Guerre.. and then telling his mom the soldier's name. They were Tomahawk boys in Europe in WWI. Will post it when I get a chance.
Darlene Wurl

Dick Klade said...

I'll check your Leader piece, Darlene. It's family lore that Robert Coey was the medal recipient, but with his associates all dead, I can't find a way to confirm it. In addition to individual awards, France sometimes conferred the medal on units. That also might have happened.

Big John said...

Poppies are still a VERY big deal here in the UK .. You may be interested in this ...
http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/remembrance/ww1-centenary/poppies-in-the-moat

Dick Klade said...

Thank you, John. I read everything in the link, plus the additional link to history. Now there's a Legion I can support--the Royal British Legion.