WASHINGTON: Armed Forces Appreciation Day, or Military Appreciation Day, is not a holiday that would ever top the lists of holidays honoring the men and women in the United States military. Of all the American holidays to honor the nation’s military, the ones most recognized are Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
So, in reality, a majority of U.S. citizens across the United States may not even realize that Armed Forces Day is even a legitimate American holiday. Yet it is. And, it is fitting and proper to thank those men and women in uniform for their service to their country and to freedom.
Armed Forces Appreciation Day, or Military Appreciation Day, is a legal holiday.
It is to be commemorated on the third Saturday each May. The holiday was established during Harry Truman’s administration. Truman leading an effort to consolidate the holidays supporting the four separate branches of the military into one. More broadly during this period, President Truman had also challenged Congress to help reorganize the branches of the military to be more efficient and effective.
The serious deliberations of both houses resulted in the sweeping initiatives of the National Security Act of 1947.
This may have been the culmination of the efforts Truman had initiated while in the Senate. Truman was 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 began investigations into the waste and widespread profiteering of military contractors. This leading 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 prominent national figure during this time.
National Security Act combining the four branches into one U.S. Military
After World War II, the legislation of the National Security Act ultimately brought four major branches of the U.S. 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, the 1949 amendment to the National Security Act, the NME was renamed the Department of Defense.
Underlying such changes to the armed forces, President Truman was also serious about addressing the lack of appreciation and respect for the returning veterans. As well as an appreciation for the value of the U.S. military as a whole.
The Isaac Woodward tragedy and other beatings in the Deep South had caught the president’s attention. (Why a Town Is Finally Honoring a Black Veteran Attacked by Its White Police Chief) Sgt. Isaac Woodard Jr., 26, was a decorated African-American veteran. Honorably discharged from the United States Army in 1946 and while traveling by bus to Winnsboro, S.C. Woodward was removed from the bus by the white police chief. He was beaten so badly, Woodward lost his eyesight.
By the end of the year, on December 5, 1946, Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9808
Thus establishing the President’s Committee on Civil Rights (PCCR). This Committee was aimed at proactively addressing the exploding problems of violent racism in post-war America.
Most Americans do not realize Truman, a Democrat, as being the one who initiated such sweeping changes. However, by October 1947, the Committee published the report To Secure These Rights: The Report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights.
The report proposed, among a number of remedies, the establishment of a permanent Civil Rights Commission, a Joint Congressional Committee on Civil Rights, and a Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. There was also an effort to develop federal protection from lynching, as well as an effort to abolish poll taxes.
By July 26, 1948, only a few months before the presidential election, President Truman acted on the recommendations of the Commission signing executive orders (E.O.) 9980, and 9981 together ending segregation in the federal workforce and the U.S. Armed Services.
Truman’s decision to desegregate the armed forces was definitely a serious political risk.
Especially within his own “Democratic” Party, where there seemed to be an attempt to disown him, leading to the progressive party formation by former V.P. Henry Wallace.
From the article Upset of the Century | Harry S. Truman Library
Southern Democrats became enraged when he began supporting civil rights for African Americans. Led by South Carolina governor (and later U.S. Senator) Strom Thurmond, the Southerners broke away and established the States’ Rights Party, also known as the “Dixiecrat” faction.
Truman was attacked by the left wing of his party because of his policy towards the Soviets, which they regarded as aggressive and provocative. Franklin Roosevelt’s former Vice President Henry Wallace and his followers established the Progressive Party.
On August 31, 1949, Truman’s Secretary of State announces the creation of a joint “Armed Forces Day.”
The new holiday was to replace the tradition of separately honoring men and women in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the new 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.” This consistent with Truman’s vision of creating a more unified department of national defense.
Truman envisioned a dual purpose for such a holiday – eliminating the contentious interdepartmental rivalry among the three military branches and eliminating duplication of effort and wasteful spending practices.
The new Department of Defense explained that Armed Forces Day was intended to help the American people better understand the function and role of the military. Truth is that the essential intent was to enable public recognition and appreciation of the military. Furthermore, to provide a means for the public to thank men and women in uniform for their service to their country.
Overall, President Truman wanted a reorganized military for the protection of America and the preservation of America’s values. On a larger scale, to create a military ready to defend the nation, or to defend the friends of freedom if needed.
Ironically, Americans would have considered the value of their military twice in 1950.
On June 25, 1950, the newly reorganized American military would be challenged to action in the Korean War. On that date, Kim Il-Sung’s North Korean Communist government invaded South Korea. By August of that year, U.S. troops poured into South Korea under the United Nations’ auspices.
Unfortunately, in the decade after Korea, there was a much different reality and a different sentiment in the U.S. 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, it failed.
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 of the returning Vietnam veterans were cursed, called disgusting names, and were spit upon as they came home to reunite with their families and resettle into their communities. (Why Were Vietnam War Vets Treated Poorly When They Returned?)
It was nearly the same mistreatment of returning black soldiers just 20 years prior by bigots in the Deep South.
The rise of the Leftists
The Leftists, like remnants of the racist bigots in the Deep South, apparently had no regard for the freedom of the Vietnamese people. The Left created deeply divided sentiments in the country toward the American military during U.S. involvement in South Vietnam.
Even long afterward, severe divisions in public sentiment regarding veterans returning from the Vietnam War left many Americans confused.
To Americans younger than 50, this may not seem significant. 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 the young, became confused. This leading to being seriously divided over what the U.S. military was doing in Vietnam. Yet, Americans have been called to action, again and again, to help the free world fight against tyranny.
The Military’s Eternal Viligance
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 keep that vigil.
As one considers this, the most vigilant of the keepers are America’s men and women in uniform. When they swear the oath to serve and protect the Constitution and the nation, they know that they may be called upon to offer their lives.
The peril in the world is real, not imagined.
Ultimately, it is those vigil keepers who may be called upon to offer the greatest of all sacrifices for the sake of others, or for the higher ideals of freedom. Essentially, this is the best that America has to offer when freedom is challenged. those willing to lay down their lives for the sake of others.
Truly, the very least the nation can offer in return is genuine gratitude toward the men and women in uniform.
May God bless America’s Veterans, and all men and women in uniform on Armed Forces’ Day!