WASHINGTON: Saturday, May 18, 2019 is Armed Forces Day, which is part of National Military Appreciation Month. During May, we recognize six different commemorations of our armed services: Loyalty Day, VE Day (the end of World War II in Europe on May 8, 1945), Armed Forces Day, Military Spouses Day and Memorial Day. In 1999, the late Sen. John McCain introduces legislation to designate May as National Military Appreciation Month.
For the sake of remembering the value of those men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces, this single effort may be the best act of service Senator McCain achieved.
In actually, however, there already was a day and a week set aside to honor the men and women in the military. Armed Forces Appreciation Day is always the third Saturday of May. This year it falls on May 18.
Unfortunately, there are many Americans who do not even realize there is such a day, or even an entire month, to honor those men and women in the military.
The Powerful History of Armed Services Day
From injustice comes recognition of our Armed Services. Isaac Woodard Jr., a former sergeant in the U.S. Army, was traveling home after serving his country in World War II. Woodard was honorably discharged after serving in the Pacific Theater.
In 1946 the young black veteran, returning from war to his home, was forcibly removed from a Greyhound bus by police in South Carolina. He was beaten so severely that his eyes were ruptured, leaving him permanently blind. (The police beating that opened America’s eyes to Jim Crow’s brutality)
Army Sgt. Isaac Woodward Jr.’s only crime was being black.
This grisly tale touched off a great deal of indignation throughout the country. According to the court testimony of Isaac Woodard, Jr., he had been punched in the face and repeatedly beaten with nightsticks. He stated that his eyes were jabbed by billy clubs.
The fact is that Woodward was so severely beaten, he awoke blind and with temporary amnesia.
Isaac Woodard’s story was not considered newsworthy in the deep South.
Then, as now, silence in the face of genuine atrocities is not rare. Truth-challenged media persist in ignoring many pressing issues. Too often tending to focus on making people see mountains in molehills. Moreover, although his story was shocking and tragic, it was ignored by a Democrat-dominated media in the South.
In the Jim Crow south, racial injustice was justified by the fact that it was ignored.
Fortunately, media in the northern cities did eventually pick up the story.
Similar stories of beatings of returning black veterans with tragic outcomes trickled out of the South during this time.
Isaac Woodward’s tragedy is the one that caught the attention of President Truman.
When Truman became aware of the vicious racist atrocities against returning WWII vets, he was called to action.
Historians reveal that when an old friend wrote to President Harry Truman at the time, appealing to him as a fellow Southerner, to go “easy” on civil rights, the President’s return comments included:
“When a mayor and a City Marshall can take a Negro Sergeant off a bus in South Carolina, beat him up and put out one of his eyes, and nothing is done about it by the State Authorities, something is radically wrong with the system…”
On December 5, 1946, Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9808.
This executive action established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights (PCCR). This Committee was an effort aimed at proactively addressing the exploding problems of violent racism in post-war America.
By October 1947, the Committee published
“To Secure These Rights: The Report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights.” The report proposed, among several remedies, the establishment of a permanent Civil Rights Commission, a Joint Congressional Committee on Civil Rights, a Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and an effort to develop federal protection from lynching, as well as the abolition of poll taxes.”
By July 26, 1948, only a few months before the presidential election, President Truman acted on the recommendations of the Commission and signed executive orders 9980 and 9981. Thus ending segregation in the federal workforce and in the U.S. Armed Services.
Truman’s decision to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces could have been political suicide. Especially within his own “Democratic” party where there was an attempt to disown him.
Even his mother and wife were against the extremely controversial integration of the military.
Many Democrat advisors promised to offer support in the election if only he would back off of his desegregation efforts. Harry Truman remained adamant and stood his ground:
“My forebears were Confederates… Every factor and influence in my background — and in my wife’s for that matter – would foster the personal belief that you are right. But my very stomach turned over when I learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of army trucks in Mississippi and beaten.
Whatever my inclinations as a native of Missouri might have been, as President I know this is bad. I shall fight to end evils like this.”
National Security Act of 1947
More broadly, during this period, President Truman also challenges 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 legislation ultimately brought four major branches of the U.S. military initially under the National Military Establishment (NME). Additionally, the Act also reorganized the Army Air Corps into a new branch of the U.S. Air Force.
The act also creating 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 becomes 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. He wanted to improve appreciation for the value of the U.S. military as a whole. Truman consolidated all of the various holidays supporting each separate branch of the military into one unified holiday to honor the four military branches together.
President Truman and Armed Forces Appreciation Day
The actual initiation of this day occurred on August 31, 1949, when Truman’s Secretary of State announced the establishment of a joint Armed Forces Appreciation Day. This new commemoration taking the place of separate days honoring men and women in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the new Air Force.
On May 20, 1950, America celebrated the first Armed Forces Day.
The 1950 “Teamed for Defense” celebration includes B-36 Bombers flying over state capitals. More than 10,000 veterans and troops led a march in Washington, D.C., and over 33,000 people participated in a New York City parade.
President Harry Turman designation of Armed Forces Appreciation Day was not well known at the time. Few Americans outside of the military, even fewer know the history behind it.
The newly created Armed Forces Appreciation Day is the third Saturday of May. The following year, 1950, the first Armed Forces Appreciation Day was on May 20. The theme on that Saturday was “Teamed for Defense.”
Teamed for Defense was consistent with Harry Truman’s vision of creating a more unified department of national defense. The dual purpose was to eliminate the inter-departmental rivalry and conflicts among the military branches and to eliminate duplication of effort and wasteful spending practices.
The new Department of Defense explained that Armed Forces Day was created to help American people better understand the function and role of the military.
The essential intent was to enable public recognition and appreciation of the military and to provide a means for the public to thank men and women in uniform for their service to their country. It is fitting and proper to do this: to thank men and women in uniform (regardless of their race or ethnic origins) for their service to their country.
Harry Truman also wanted a reorganized military to be ready to defend the nation, for the protection of America. He realized a strong military is necessary for the preservation of America’s values.
Ultimately, America enjoys the blessings of freedom while bearing the curse to defend freedom.
Truman also understood the need for America’s need to be capable of defending not only this nation but the friends of freedom when needed as well. Throughout the nation’s history, Americans have been called to action to help the free world fight against tyranny.
The perils to freedom were not imagined then, nor are they imagined now. As the famous saying goes:
“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
Especially in the world today, those who keep that vigil must guard freedom. The most vigilant of the vigil 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.
Essentially, this is the best that America has to offer as freedom is challenged. Those willing to lay down their lives for the sake of family and friends.
It is those vigil keepers who may be called upon to offer the greatest of all sacrifices for the sake of others or the higher ideals of freedom. The very least, “We the people” can provide in return is genuine gratitude toward the men and women who could be called upon to throw themselves into the divide between liberty and tyranny.
May God bless America’s veterans, and all men and women in uniform on Armed Forces’ Day!