Allegan County News & Union Enterprise Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes Saugatuck/Douglas Commercial Record

Life as Performance Art

    We have four major national patriotic holidays in our country, and two of them always come near the end of May. Most of us already know about three of the major holidays – Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veteran’s Day.   There is another one that seems much like the over-looked and sometimes forgotten child.  This Saturday, the 21st, we will be pausing to observe the fourth patriotic holiday, Armed Forces Day.
    Each holiday has its own purpose.  On Memorial Day remember those who sacrificed their lives for this country; July 4th is the birthday of our nation, and just as President Adams suggested, a good party. On Veteran’s Day we recognize those men and women who served and then came home to resume their lives.
     Armed Forces Day is when we recognize,  honor and thank the men and women currently serving in the military.  I have long believed that we are always at our best, whether as individuals, a community, or a nation, when we make a point of thanking others for what they are doing. It is our way of saying, “I really do see you, and I am grateful for you and all that you are doing on our behalf.”
    We honor them all – all the branches, active duty, Reserves, National Guard, ROTC and Junior ROTC. We make a point to recognize them this day because we are grateful for their service.  Period. Because I believe it is so important, I will repeat my belief: We are always at our best when we honor others.
    Armed Forces Day is over-looked because Memorial Day comes just a week or so later, and for many of us, that three-day holiday is the starting gun of the summer.  Seniors graduate from high school and college; younger students race out the school door for their summer holidays, and here in the Upper Midwest, it is the unofficial start of summer fun and activities.  Armed Forces Day doesn’t have that connection.  Plus, it is the youngest of all four of these holidays, dating back just seventy plus years to 1950, when the documents were signed to create this day. 
    Prior to 1947, each branch of the military was a separate entity under the Department of War.  It was a workable plan, but there was a need to modernize.  Two years later, the Department of War was renamed the Department of Defense; To better coordinate their efforts between the branches, the Joint Chiefs of Staff was organized,
     All of that was primarily administrative and did not have nearly the impact as the big change ordered by President Truman.  The military would be desegregated and integrated. There would be no more division between the races.  There would be no more ‘colored’ units with all white senior officers. In very practical terms meant different races would be sharing the same barracks, mess halls and restrooms. It meant black officers would be saluted by whites, and for some service personnel and civilians, it was not well received.  Truman held firm:  Orders are orders, and those in uniform obey them.  In time, he won the backing of others.  He knew it was the right thing to do.
      Perhaps nothing, at least since the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, has changed the social and racial fabric of our country as much as this vision of President Truman.
     We should keep in mind that prior to this time, each branch of the service had their own days of celebration. The Army, one day; the Navy, another,  and so on.  One result of the National Security Act of 1947 was the proposal of merging these separate celebrations into one observance – Armed Forces Day.
      Dear old “rona” put the kibosh on a lot of celebrations in our country the past two years, including Armed Forces Day.  This year, we’re back.  For the tenth year, one of Allegan County’s observances will be at the Douglas Community Church, starting at 11 AM.  
     If you can’t be at an observance, then if nothing else, if you have an American flag, put it up.  This isn’t about you letting everyone else know how patriotic you are; it is letting others know that you support the men and women in uniform.  That is not an empty or meaningful gesture.
    Of all the rotten and miserable stuff going on in this world, at home or abroad, the one thing we don’t have to worry about is a military coup in our country.  Oh, some of the Nervous Neds and Anxious Annies will bring up the subject and give dire warnings of what might happen. They’re just plain doofy.
    The reason this isn’t a concern now or in the future is because every one of the men and women we honor on Armed Forces Day has taken a sacred oath to defend our country from enemies at home or abroad. They have promised to defend the Constitution and uphold it.  Regardless of who is in office, from the President down to the local level, and regardless of their personal feelings about that person, their vows kick in.  Service members know it is their right to grumble and complain, and some of them are experts at it. But more importantly, they know the limits and when to stay quiet.  When it’s necessary they’ll remind their comrades to be quiet. And, if that isn’t enough, there is a chance of a little late-night attitude adjustment behind the barracks.
     For all these men and women, it is a matter of respect.  When a recruit completes basic training and puts on their Class A uniform for the first time, most of them stand in front of a mirror for a long time.  They have earned the privilege to wear that uniform, and they wear it with respect.  It is respect that extends to every other man and woman in uniform, and to civilians.
     But above all, it is respect for the Stars and Stripes, for those who preceded them, and for those who will come up after them. It is respect that is so strong that it is sacred to them.
     We have countless reasons to be grateful for living in this country, and much of it is due to the men and women serving in the military.  They made a promise, and they are keeping it.
    The 21st of May is the designated day for honoring our men and women in uniform. Let’s do it and let them know we appreciate them.

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