SAN JOSE, Calif., May 18, 2013 — Of all the American holidays to honor the nation’s military, the ones that are most recognized are Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Armed Forces Appreciation Day is not one that would ever top the lists of such holidays. In fact, a majority of citizens across the United States may not even realize that Armed Forces Day is even a legitimate American holiday.
Armed Forces Day was established during Harry Truman’s administration after he led an effort to consolidate the holidays supporting the four separate branches of the military into one. Harry Truman’s secretary of State on Aug. 31, 1949, announced the establishment of a joint Armed Forces Day to replace the tradition of honoring separately the men and women in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.
The following year the initial Armed Forces Day was celebrated on May 20. The theme on that Saturday was the concept “Teamed for Defense,” which was consistent with Harry Truman’s vision of creating a more unified department of national defense. Truman envisioned a dual purpose for such a holiday of eliminating the contentious inter-departmental rivalry among the three military branches and eliminating duplication of effort and wasteful spending practices.
This may have been the culmination of the efforts Truman had initiated while in the Senate as the chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. Approximately a year prior to the U.S. declaration of war on the Japanese Imperial government, Truman’s investigations into the waste and widespread profiteering of military contractors led to the establishment of a special committee to conduct a more thorough investigation of abuses. Truman earned a valued reputation as a leader concerned about waste and corruption. Reportedly, the Truman Committee saved the taxpayers around $15 billion, and the senator from Missouri became a national figure during this time.
When President Truman challenged Congress after the war about a more efficient and effective military, the serious deliberations of both houses resulted in the sweeping initiatives of the National Security Act of 1947. This legislation brought four major branches of the military initially under the National Military Establishment. The act also reorganized the Army Air Corps into the new branch of the U.S. Air Force and created the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council among other security-based organizations. Eventually, with the 1949 amendment to the National Security Act, the NME was renamed the Department of Defense.
Eventually on May 20, 1950, the new Department of Defense explained that Armed Forces Appreciation Day was intended to help the people better understand the function and role of the military in American society, but the essential intent was to recognize and appreciate the military and to provide a means for the public to thank men and women in uniform for their service. Ironically, on June 25, 1950, the newly reorganized American military would be mustered for action when Kim Il-Sung’s North Korean Communist government invaded South Korea, starting the Korean War. Americans would be considering the value of their military because by August, U.S. troops poured into South Korea under the United Nations’ auspices.
However, in the decade after Korea, there was a much different reality and a different sentiment in the United States towards the men and women in uniform. Despite Truman’s efforts to promote respect and recognition of the difficult job the U.S. military faces, deeply divided sentiments spread across the country toward the American military during and long after U.S. involvement in South Vietnam. A severe division in public sentiment regarding the veterans returning from the Vietnam War left many Americans confused.
In fact, there was a notable difference in the public receptions of returning veterans who had served in Korea and those who had served in Vietnam. Some returning Vietnam veterans were cursed and called disgusting names and were spit upon as they came home to reunite with their families and resettle into their communities. To Americans younger than 50, this may not seem significant, but to others it may seem surreal. It may be puzzling to some as to why such a shift in public sentiment occurred in such a short period of time. Unfortunately, the answers to such a question could fill a book; and many books, from many points of view, have been written to examine this paradoxical period in American history.
In brief, many Americans, especially young people, became confused and seriously divided over what U.S. servicemen were doing in Vietnam, and the nation became confused and unclear about what our nation was doing there. Citizens readily questioned the government’s motives and second-guessed the military’s motives in many instances during the Vietnam War. University and college campuses became battlegrounds themselves as division swept through academic institutions. Controversy and outright violence on American soil frustrated and divided the people. It is possible that as a nation, Americans have not recovered from such a divisive time.
Nonetheless, after Sept. 11, 2001, such divisions seem to have faded. As the events in 2001, and then those in Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11 demonstrate, the world is a dangerous place. Although residue from the dark period of the Vietnam War era still permeates the nation — there are still those with little appreciation or respect for the U.S. military in certain quarters of the country — such people are failing to persuade the majority.
Many Americans realize that it is the U.S. military may be one of the major forces that can keep the chaotic and destructive forces throughout the world in check. Harry Truman wanted a reorganized military for the preservation of America’s values and to be ready to defend the nation, or to defend the friends of freedom when needed. The peril in the world was not imagined then, nor is it imagined now.
History shows that without the U.S. military involvement in the Great War, that horrendous conflict may have had quite a different outcome. Without U.S. military involvement in World War II, an even more horrendous conflict may have turned out much worse. Also, without the critical help of the U.S. in Korea, the people of South Korea would have been doomed to the control of the North Korean Communists. And while young people were demonstrating in the civil rights movement, how was it that many of the same people were demonstrating against the U.S. military who were fighting to preserve the civil rights of those in Vietnam?
A long time ago, some years after the American Revolution, someone said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Especially in the world today, freedom must be guarded by those who will keep the vigil, and the most vigilant of the vigil keepers are the men and women in uniform. When they swear their oath to serve and protect the Constitution and the nation, they must know going in that they may be called upon to offer their lives for their country or the cause of freedom.
Ultimately, it is those vigil keepers who are called upon to offer the greatest of all sacrifices for the sake of the higher ideals of human freedom. This is essentially what America has to offer when freedom is challenged – those who are willing to lay down their lives for the sake of others. Unfortunately, the American men and women in the armed forces have been called to action again and again to help the free world fight against tyranny. The very least the nation can offer in return is genuine gratitude toward those who put their lives on the line to maintain the vigil. May God bless our men and women in uniform on this Armed Forces Day!