Veterans Day, Nov. 11. A time when we make special note of the sacrifices made by the members of the armed forces of our country. When I was a kid the date was called Armistice Day, because the World War I ended at 11 minutes past 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month. It seems a bit contrived to us now, but back then it was to drill into the minds of all involved the precise date of the armistice. I can’t tell you the exact date or time of the endings of World War II in Europe, known now as VE Day (Victory in Europe) or of the War in the Pacific, VJ Day (Victory over Japan). I recall that they were in 1945, and I even remember where I was when the radio broadcast each of those two momentous events.
But there have been some interesting changes over time in how we know about such things. During WWI all photographs were in black and white. Movies were silent and made with hand-cranked cameras. The films had to be taken back to a lab for processing and were then eventually shown in the newest entertainment venues, the cinemas. Radio broadcasting didn’t exist, let alone television.
By WWII, radio was widely available; local stations did live shows and shut down at around 11:00 p.m. with the national anthem. Short-wave radio made it possible for an entirely new form of journalism to be invented. Edward R. Murrow was a prime pioneer, giving live broadcasts of war action as it was happening. His newscasts began with the signature line: “Hello, America. This is London calling.” Before long reporters were being embedded with the troops both in Europe and in the Pacific, actually going in with invasion forces in places as hostile as Guadalcanal and the Philippines. Cinematography equipment and techniques had improved so that color and sound would be incorporated into films shown in home movie theaters, and the folks at home could feel a sort of participation. Broadcast reports were still limited primarily to the three radio networks, NBC, ABC and CBS. MovieTone News prepared the films seen in the theaters.
Now it is almost 70 years since then, and the news is transmitted via satellite as it occurs and on a spectrum of broadcast TV networks including cable, many of which run 24 hours a day. Casualties are reported on a day-to-day basis and with detailed accuracy impossible three quarters of a century ago. But the result of the reporting of those casualty reports is that the public has become much more sensitive to the numbers of killed and wounded American troops.
In the almost 14 years of the conflict in Afghanistan, there have been 2,144 military deaths. By contrast, during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, a campaign that lasted 40 days, U.S. casualties included 19,000 killed. Another contrast, traffic deaths in Texas, Florida and California in 2013 have each exceeded the total deaths in the entire Afghanistan campaign.
Until 1980, there was a recognition that people involved in conflicts sometimes developed problems that were mental in nature. The condition was usually called “shell shock.” It was often viewed by military leaders as weakness on the part of the person exhibiting its symptoms, up to the point when on August 3, 1943, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton slapped a soldier who was hospitalized for psychoneurosis, accusing him of cowardice. Now the condition is given the formal title of PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it is becoming more widely
recognized. It is not merely something found among troops involved in firefights. It may be found in support personnel who never get anywhere near the actual combat zones. It may also be experienced in the families of deployed military personnel as they anxiously wait at home. So, this Veterans Day, and every day, please recognize that the freedoms we enjoy and take far too much for granted exist largely because of the services of our men and women in the military. Never miss an opportunity to say “Thank you for serving” to a service person in uniform, and to persons of mature years (that’s code for “old people”) who wear “Vietnam Vet” or other emblazoned clothing and headgear.
May God bless all our service people at home and away for making our freedom possible.