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Service, sacrifice and honor: Veterans Day 2017

A veteran and child hold the U.S. flag

November is the month for remembrance and thanksgiving. Veterans Day, on November 11, is the time when Americans pause to remember those in uniform who have served and sacrificed for freedom and the nation.

In many places, the flag is flown at half-mast and at 11am, people respect a two minute silence to remember the fallen and those who have served. The silence is often concluded by the bugling of Taps.

To mark Veterans Day, wreath laying ceremonies, veterans parades and services of remembrance are held at national cemeteries and at monuments and in places of worship around the country.

This federal holiday is held as a mark of respect and appreciation for the sacrifices made by each and every person who has served. This year, the Department of Veterans Affairs is broadening the tradition of observance to include both veterans and military families, for the whole of November.

Why do we remember on November 11?

Veterans day at Arlington National CemeteryPicture: Arlington National Cemetery via WikimediaCommons

Veterans Day was first known as Armistice Day, so-called because it marked the anniversary of the signing of the armistice, which brought the hostilities of World War I to an end, in 1918. This was when the fighting stopped, while the war was officially ended in June 1919, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, in Paris, France.

The eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month soon became a time and day for remembrance across the allied nations that fought together to end “The War to End All Wars.” Until World War II, the First World War was most often referred to as The Great War.

This year marks 100 years since American troops entered combat in World War I. More than two million American soldiers served on the battlefields and some 50,000 lost their lives.

Armistice Day was officially declared a legal holiday in 1938. Then, in the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, veterans service organizations urged Congress to change the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. This was done in order to honor all of those who have served and continue to do so. Armistice Day became Veterans Day in 1954.

What’s the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?

Sailors take part in a Veterans Day paradePicture: Petty Officer 2nd Class Martin Carey via WikimediaCommons

Memorial Day, which is a federal holiday in May, is an occasion for remembering those were killed in the line of duty. Veterans Day is a patriotic occasion which honors everyone, including the living, dead and those still active in the military, who has served to protect America’s freedom.

There are currently around 1.4 million people serving in the U.S. military and 18.5 million American veterans.

What happens on Veterans Day?

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

On November 11 and in the days leading up to it, color parades and wreath-laying ceremonies are held around America. The focal point for national remembrance is Arlington National Cemetery, where The United States Air Force Band begins the ceremony with a concert.

A wreath laying ceremony takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, followed by a ceremony inside the Memorial Amphitheater.

This formal ceremony is free to attend and open to members of the public. More details can be found here.

Wreath laying ceremonies will also be held at veterans cemeteries across the nation, from Birmingham Alabama, to Milwaukee, Wisconson. The Department of Veterans Affairs has details of the regional national and state cemeteries where Americans can pay their respects.

If you are a civilian attending a Veterans Day wreath laying ceremony, you are politely requested to dress appropriately. The dress code is ‘business casual’. Smart, but not necessarily formal is the rule, while ripped jeans, short-sleeved tees, mini-skirts, sportswear and sneakers are a no-no.

Veterans Day parades

A member of the military meets with children during a Veterans Day paradePicture: Staff Sgt. Danielle Bacon via WikimediaCommons

Veterans Day parades are taking place in towns and cities across the country on the weekend of November 11 and 12, 2017.

America’s Parade in New York City is a major event and begins with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Eternal Light in Madison Square Park on November 11. At around 11.15am the Parade proceeds north on Fifth Avenue from 26th - 52nd St and concludes around 3:30pm. It’s followed by a Veterans Street Fair and other activities.

In San Francisco, the Mayor’s Salute to Veterans Parade starts out from Fisherman’s Wharf Area at 11 am on November 12.

In Downtown Atlanta the parade begins at 11.11am on Peachtree Street. This year, its theme is based on the 100th Anniversary of American military forces entering into combat in World War I.

“World War I was one of the most brutal and costly wars that our military has participated in,” says Georgia Veterans Day Association president Kevin L. Miller. “I encourage everyone to learn more about The Great War and to use our events to gain more knowledge.”

Chicago’s Veterans Day Ceremony begins at 11am at Soldiers Field, so-named at the request of the Gold Star Mothers to honor the men lost in World War I.

The program will culminate with a wreath laying ceremony at the city’s famous Doughboy statue, with a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps and the Armed Forces Medley. Doughboy is an informal term for a member of the United States Army of Marine Corps.

No Greater Love

To coincide with Veteran’s Day 2017, Army Chaplain Justin David Roberts’ award-winning documentary, No Greater Love is being released in movie theaters across the country. With gritty footage he filmed on deployment in Afghanistan, it also features heartfelt interviews with soldiers and Gold Star family members.

It reflects not just the harsh reality of combat that soldiers endure, but the personal battles faced by bereaved families and servicemen and women who find it hard to cope when they return home, due to what they have endured. For some, this can lead to depression, PTSD or struggles with addiction, with over 20 suicides per day, among America’s veteran population.

Giving back to those who served

Veterans Day is not simply an opportunity for the nation to pay its respects, but to offer real help those who laid their lives on the line and now need some support.

The VA has a list with the website addresses of organizations and non-profits helping veterans and their families through difficult circumstances, hardship and bereavement. Members of the public can make donations to support the work they do.

Online veterans resource military.com also has details of stores, restaurants and businesses that are supporting veteran causes through the sale of goods and services you can buy.

Military.com also has links to Veterans Day thank you deals, freebies and discounts available to veterans and those in active service in stores, recreation destinations and restaurants.