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Front Page News

November 6, 2013


Veterans’ Day and Robert Frost

Submitted By Richard R. Doucet


“God and the soldier all men adore

In time of need and not before

The danger past and all things righted

God and the soldier:

God is forgotten and the old soldier is slighted”

Robert Frost


This poem was quoted by President John F. Kennedy at the, then, West Berlin side of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany on June 26, 1963.  He used that poem as an entry to a speech on how our nation depends on its military to defend the gates of freedom and how the poem was not justified when thinking of the relationship between the American public and the military, past and present: in other words our veterans. 


At eleven o’clock on the morning of November 11, 1918: The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month of 1918 the armistice went into effect that ended the fighting, but not the war, between Germany and the other European nations. The surrender of Germany and the peace treaty would not be signed for several more months.   


In 1919 President Woodrow Wilson declared Armistice Day a holiday, not as celebration of victory over Germany, but as a tribute to the men and women who died in gaining that victory. Men like the members of the American 77th (New York) Division’s “Lost Battalion“. Nine companies of the division were ordered into the Argonne forest in France to seize and hold a key point.  Because supporting attacks on both flanks failed they were cut off and surrounded but held out for 5 days, from Oct 2 through Oct 7, 1918, against multiple attacks by overwhelming  German odds.  When they were finally relieved there were less than 200 men left alive. Major Whittlesey and two captains were awarded the Medal of Honor  for their courage and leadership in an action that was credited with helping to bring on the armistice some five weeks later.


After a number of changes Armistice Day finally became Veteran’s Day and would for ever be celebrated on Nov 11, no matter what day it fell on, as a tribute not only to those who fell in the Great War but now to all the men and women who suffered and died in all our wars from Lexington Green to the hills of Afghanistan to protect not only our way of life but help others who were, and are, oppressed: our friends and allies.  And it is this concept, that of honoring the people not celebrating the victories, that makes us, and our holiday, very different from other nations and cultures.  With the exception of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) and Victory in Japan Day (VJ Day), neither of which are federal holidays or even celebrated, we honor those who did the sacrificing and not try and humiliate the defeated.  


No one could have more eloquently put this precept into words than President Lincoln did in his speech on Nov. 19, 1863 at the dedication of the cemetery in Gettysburg Pennsylvania.  He talked about honoring those who fell; not about a great victory over an enemy.  He talked about self-sacrifice not self-service. 


Unfortunately, like almost all of our holidays Veterans’ Day, too many, has become just one more excuse for a paid day off, or to have a sale of some type. However, a generation ago every family had a son, father, sister, husband, uncle, or friend who was a veteran.  Armistice day, and now Veterans Day, was a personal thing. Since the end of the military draft not so many families now are as closely related to a “veteran” as they were 40 years ago. However, every veteran is still someone’s son, father, sister, husband, uncle, or friend and increasingly someone’s wife or mother; in other words they are real people and above all our neighbors.


Why all the “hubbub”? What makes vets different from police or firefighters? Certainly no one would ever doubt the courage of all our first responders.  However, one principle separates the military from all other professions:  When anyone joins the military they take and oath that they will follow all orders even if it leads to their death.  There is no other profession, no matter how dangerous, where the person joining that profession agrees to die if asked to do so…and could face criminal charges if they refuse.


Every veteran alive today has taken that oath whether it be for 3 years or 30 years.


No matter your philosophy, religious convictions or lack thereof, or your political affiliation it is veterans who have been willing to pay the price for us to be able to express our beliefs freely; not a lawyer, activist, politician, or community organizer. Without the over two hundred years of veterans standing up to evil and oppression the lawyer, the activist and community organizer would not be free to do what they do.


Even the great Mahatma Gandy, India’s pacifist leader, knew that though he had gained his country’s independence from Great Britain in 1949 through non-violence, could not simply disband his military and hope others would let them live in peace. He understood that the pen is truly mighty only when it is defended by a strong and moral sword. 


President Theodore Roosevelt once said: “A man who is good enough to shed his blood for the country is good enough to be given a square deal.”  


President Roosevelt would, I am sure, considers what the Cavaretta family, James and Whitney Smith owners of Cavaretta Garden on Route 4 in Northwood, did for veterans as a “square deal”.  For the second time this year they have aided the Northwood VFW drive to help veterans and their families by donating a portion of their profits to the VFW.  In October they donated at least ten percent of their October sales.


In view of what the Cavaretta family can do, would it be so difficult for those in our communities who are responsible for putting out signs that say the business or public office, such as town halls and libraries, will be closed on Veterans day to put “Closed On Nov. 11 in honor of Veterans Day”, or, “We will be closed on Veterans Day, thank you veterans for your service” instead of just “Closed on Nov. 11?” I think that President Roosevelt would consider that a “square deal.” 


Not to make such a small gesture towards our neighbors because we may not share some of the same conviction would certainly amount to nothing more than being ungrateful and even mean spirited.


Finally, to my brothers and sisters in arms from Vietnam, welcome home.





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