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931st ARG Commander: Veterans Day, Kansas historically linked

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- When I address our Airmen and our community, I often relate the extraordinary support we receive from the people of Kansas. I implore our Airmen and employees to recognize that appreciation and to be good neighbors, not as a way of returning any favors, nor out of a sense of duty but because it is the right thing to do.

As we approach Veterans Day, we recall the actions of those who served before us, and we reflect on the sacrifices that made it possible for our nation to exist and survive.

In the next few days, many of us will attend parades and celebrations during the holiday and some of us may even receive public recognition and thanks for our service. Those of us who live and work in Kansas should also reflect upon the inextricable relationship between the "Sunflower State" and Veterans Day holiday.

Prior to 1954, Nov. 11 was a day that recognized veterans of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson declared Nov. 11, "Armistice Day" in 1918 to recognize the end of World War I and celebrate the valiant efforts of those who fought in the war.

By 1926, twenty-seven state legislatures declared the date to be a legal holiday and the US Congress officially recognized the end of the "Great War" by passing a concurrent resolution that called upon the President,

"... to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples."

In 1938, "Armistice Day" became a legal holiday honoring veterans of "The Great War", with the approval of 52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a.

When the US entered World War II in 1941, the people of our nation realized that World War I was not, as H. G. Wells dubbed it, "The war that will end war."

It was a civilian, Alvin J. King of Emporia, Kan., who proposed renaming the holiday "Veterans Day" as a day of recognition for all American veterans.

King never served in the armed forces but his family, like so many American families, experienced an enormous loss during World War II. His nephew, PFC John Cooper of Rifle Company B, 137th Infantry Regiment, was killed in action in Belgium. King and his wife, Gertrude, raised the young man, and King developed a special appreciation for America's war veterans.

On Nov. 11, 1953, King held a Veterans Day celebration to honor the veterans of all wars in his hometown of Emporia. A similar day of recognition was initiated by Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Ala., in 1947 but it was King who approached U. S. Rep. Edward H. Rees, of Emporia, Kan., and requested he introduce legislation to expand and rename the Nov. 11 holiday to honor veterans of all wars.

Rees introduced House Resolution 7786, which changed "Armistice Day" to "Veterans Day" and broadened the scope of the holiday. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, originally from Abilene, Kan., signed the bill on June 1, 1954.

The actions of three Kansans, a citizen, a legislator, and a President who served in World War II, established Nov. 11 as a date in which all of those who serve are recognized for their contributions to freedom.

We do not stand on our own. Veterans Day should remain important to all Americans regardless of military service.

Set aside some time to reflect upon the contributions of our nation's veterans, and consider the history of this holiday because it mirrors the manner in which a democratic society and government operates. It begins with the ultimate sacrifice by our military, receives recognition from an appreciative citizenry, gains advocacy in the legislature, and is ultimately signed into law by the President.

Those of us who live in Kansas should also recognize the link between this state and Veterans Day. Our Airmen should be honored to live in the state that produced the men who made it possible, and this community should be proud to call them "Kansans."