On Veteran's Day, let's recognize all who serve

Jim Blasingame

Veterans Day has its origins in Armistice Day, which was first acknowledged by President Wilson in 1919. The first anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles took place “in the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” Congress made Armistice Day a national holiday on November 11, 1938. 

Alvin King, a small business owner in Emporia, Kansas, had a problem with Armistice Day. Al was so moved by the death of his nephew, John E. Cooper, who was killed in the Battle of the Bulge, during World War II that he, along with the Emporia Chamber of Commerce, started a movement to rename and redefine Armistice Day as Veterans Day. His goal was to expand the recognition beyond those who served in WWI. The idea caught on and President Eisenhower made Veterans Day official in 1954.

But who should be recognized on Veterans Day? If you’re looking for the definition of a military veteran, good luck. There are several variations on that theme, since the veteran universe is primarily associated with financial benefits. Consequently, the government has a lot at stake in the official definition.

The most common technical definition of a veteran is someone who served on active duty for more than six months while assigned to a regular U.S. armed services unit. But at least on Veterans Day, the case should be made for a practical definition. Adam Smith may have provided the first one in 1776. 

In his seminal book, “Wealth of Nations,” Smith described America’s “Minuteman” militia as those who “. . . turn from their primary citizen character into a standing army.” These were just private citizens, many of whom today we would classify as small business owners and employees.

Even though many don’t qualify for the technical definition of a veteran, past and present members of our modern militia – Reserves and National Guard – deserve to be recognized on Veterans Day. For generations, this group has made themselves available to a grateful nation, not knowing if they would ever deploy. Indeed, John Cooper’s military service began as a member of Company B, 137th Infantry, Kansas National Guard. 

Allow me to enter this practical definition of a veteran into the record, from an anonymous author:  “A Veteran – whether active duty, retired, National Guard or Reserve – is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a check made payable on demand to The United States of America, for an amount up to and including their life.” 

America has received, held and cashed this “check” from different kinds of patriots who prepared themselves to be called to protect and defend their country.

Write this on a rock…Happy Veterans Day to all who made themselves available to a grateful nation.

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