Maj Gen G G Dwivedi (retd)
Two years ago it was early November that I happened to be in Boston for academic engagements. Aware that the USA observes very few holidays, I was a bit surprised that November 12, Monday, was a national holiday, on account of the Veterans Day.
The day was marked by public rallies, parades and church services. At many places the American flag flew at half mast. Rich tributes were paid to the veterans for their sacrifices in keeping America secure and safe. To quote President Obama “So long as I am the Commander-in-Chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known. When you take off the uniform, we will serve you as well you have served us because no one who fights for the country should have to fight for a job or roof over their head or the care they need when they come home”. The spirit of pride amongst the war veterans was palpable from the reverence and gratitude extended by the public for the men who once adorned the uniform.
A few days later, I had the privilege to be invited for lunch at the Harvard Faculty Club by Major Jean, a World War II veteran. After early retirement, he taught mathematics at Harvard University for over four decades. It was over lunch that I got a historical perspective on the Veterans Day. It started as a tradition to mark the Armistice Agreement between the Allies and Germany ending World War I, which came into effect in 1918, on November 11 at 11th hour. A year later, to commemorate the Armistice Day, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that the day should be a solemn occasion to express gratitude for the victory; to all those who laid down their lives in service of the nation. There were public gatherings, parades and a brief suspension of business activities at 11 am.
In 1926 the US Congress declared that Armistice Anniversary should be commemorated with prayers and thanksgiving. In 1938, November 11 was made an official holiday and the same was ratified again in 1978. In case November 11 happens to be a Sunday, then the next Monday was to be observed as a holiday. Of the 44 US Presidents, 31 had a military background — 12 held the rank of General.
The Indian Army earned rich laurels for its professionalism and valour, especially during the two World Wars. Post Independence, the Indian Armed Forces have acquitted themselves with distinction in safeguarding the nation’s sovereignty, both against external and internal threats. They are at the fore front during disasters. Their credentials in upholding the nation’s secular character and democratic values are impeccable. Whereas society is proud of its military, yet it has fallen short in according the honour the veteran soldiers deserve.
While the yearly calendar is cluttered with days of reckoning, there is no occasion when the nation remembers its veterans. Even in the armed forces, there are numerous days which are commemorated in the true regimental spirit but none is dedicated exclusively to the veterans.
December 16 is observed by the three Services as ‘Vijay Divas’ (Victory Day) to mark the historic victory in the 1971 Bangladesh war. It will be befitting if this day could be commemorated as the ‘Veterans Day’ by the countrymen; an occasion when the nation could solemnly salute its soldiers for repeatedly taking the call to defend the motherland. After all, what a soldier seeks in return for the supreme sacrifice is pretty little: honour, dignity and shared understanding.
the article was published in The Tribune on 17th Dec. 2014