Armed Forces Day and America's vigil keepers

Today is Armed Forces Day. Sadly, most Americans may not even realize that Armed Forces Day is even a legitimate holiday. Photo: AP

SAN JOSE, May 18, 2013 —  For most Americans in the United States, Armed Forces Day is not on the lists of likely holidays to honor the country’s military in celebrations of Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day. Sadly, most Americans may not even realize that Armed Forces Day is even a legitimate holiday.

Armed Forces Day was established to be celebrated on the third Saturday in May. It started during Harry Truman’s administration when he led an effort to consolidate the various holidays supporting each separate branch of the military into a simple unified holiday to honor the four branches together. The actual initiation of this day occurred on August 31, 1949, when Truman’s Secretary of State announced the establishment of a joint Armed Forces Day to take the place of the former tradition of having separate days to honor the men and women in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

The following year, in 1950, the initial Armed Forces Day was celebrated on May 20th. The theme on that Saturday was the concept “Teamed for Defense” which was consistent with Harry Truman’s vision of creating a more unified department of national defense with the dual purpose of eliminating the inter-departmental rivalry and conflicts within the three military branches and eliminating duplication of effort and wasteful spending practices.

The deliberations of Congress, which followed Truman’s challenge, resulted in the sweeping initiatives of the National Security Act of 1947.  This legislation ultimately brought four major branches of the military initially under the National Military Establishment. The Act also reorganized the Army Air Corps into the new branch of the U.S. Air Force and created the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council among other security-based organizations. Eventually, with the 1949 amendment to the National Security Act, the NME was renamed the Department of Defense.

In 1950, the new Department of Defense explained that Armed Forces Day was intended to help the people better understand the function and role of the military in American society, but the essential intent was to enable public recognition and appreciation of the military, and to provide a means for the public to thank men and women in uniform for their service to their country. Ironically, in June of 1950, the American military would be mustered for action as North Korean Communists attacked South Korea.                                               

However, in less than two decades, Harry Truman’s efforts to promote a natural respect and recognition of the difficult job the men and women in uniform face, there was a deeply divisive sentiment that developed within the country with regard to American veterans returning from the Vietnam War. During and long after U.S. involvement in South Vietnam, there was a severe division in public sentiment regarding the military. There was a notable difference in the public reception of returning veterans who had served in Korea and those who had served in Vietnam. Some returning Vietnam veterans were cursed and called names and spit upon as they came back to their homeland to reunite with their families and resettle into their communities.

To many Americans younger than 50, this may not seem significant, but to others it may seem surreal. It may be puzzling to some as to why such a shift in public sentiment occurred in such a short period of time. Unfortunately, the answers to such a question could fill a book. In brief, many Americans, especially young people, became confused and seriously divided over what U.S. servicemen were doing in Vietnam, and the nation became confused and unclear about what our nation was doing Vietnam.

Citizens more readily questioned the government’s motives and second-guessed the military’s motives in many instances during the days of the Vietnam War. University and college campuses became battlegrounds themselves as division swept through academic institutions. Controversy and outright violence on American soil frustrated and divided the people.  It is possible that as a nation, the country has not recovered from such a divisive time.

Nonetheless, after September 11, 2001, such divisions seem to have faded. As the events in 2001, and then those in Benghazi on 9/11 last year demonstrate, the world is a dangerous place.  Although residue from the dark period of the Vietnam War era still permeates the nation as there are still those with little appreciation or respect for the U.S. military in certain quarters of the country, those with some animosity and disrespect toward the nation’s military are failing to persuade the majority.

Many Americans realize that it is the U.S. Military that may be one of the major forces that can keep the chaotic and destructive forces throughout the world in check. Harry Truman wanted a reorganized military for the preservation of America’s values and to be ready to defend the nation, or to defend the friends of freedom when needed. The peril in the world was not imagined then, nor is it imagined now.

History shows that without the U.S. military involvement in the Great War, that horrendous conflict may have had quite a different outcome. Also, without U.S. military involvement in World War II, an even more horrendous conflict may have turned out much worse. Also, without U.S. help in Korea, the people of South Korea would have been doomed to the control of the North Korean Communists. A sincere question is this: Who stands for genuine freedom by sacrificing more than the United States of America?

A long time ago, some years after the American Revolution, someone was quoted as saying that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Especially in the world today, freedom must be guarded by those who will keep the vigil. As one can consider this, it must be obvious that the most vigilant of the vigil keepers are the men and women in uniform. When they swear their oath to serve and protect the Constitution and the nation, they must know going in that they may be called upon to offer their lives for their country or the cause of freedom. This is powerful in and of itself because it is these men and women in the military who could be called upon to offer themselves in the breach between liberty and tyranny.

Ultimately, it is those vigil keepers who are called upon to offer the greatest of all sacrifices for the sake of the higher ideals of human freedom. This is essentially what America has to offer when freedom is challenged – those who are willing to lay down their lives for the sake of others. Unfortunately, the American men and women in the armed forces have been called    to action again and again to help the free world fight against tyranny. The very least the nation can offer in return is genuine gratitude toward the men and women who put their lives on the line to maintain the vigil. May God bless our men and women in uniform on this Armed Forces’ Day!

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Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member  at West Valley College in California.  He also currently writes a column on history and one on American freedom for the Communities at the Washington Times.


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