Recently, when I asked some friends to free-associate about the month of November, nearly everyone immediately responded with one word: Thanksgiving. When I asked them about other holidays in the month, some people responded by asking, “There are other holidays in November?” Still others reminded me I had forgotten to attend mass on All Saints’ Day. One person even gave me a new holiday to consider; apparently, Nov. 15 is “America Recycles Day.” After questioning about 50 people, my heart bled for the soldiers we supposedly honor (but that nobody seemed to remember) on Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day.
First, a little history lesson. A great celebration broke out on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The Allies and the Germans finally called a cease-fire from “The Great War,” or World War I, while treaty negotiations took place. Less than a year later, President Wilson issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 11 Armistice Day. Taking it one step further, on June 4, 1926, Congress declared “the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all government buildings on Nov. 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places.” On May 13, 1938, Congress designated the occasion that would later be called Veterans’ Day a legal holiday.
After learning all the history behind Veterans’ Day, it boggled my mind that Yale would not commemorate this glorious holiday with a day free from the worries of classes so that we might attend services for our veterans. As I looked at the school’s calendar for 2005-2006, I discovered the administration gives Yale students but one single-day holiday off: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Frankly, I must protest this egregious inequity. Dr. King’s freedom to speak and the freedom of his fellow civil rights activists to assemble in protest would not have existed had it not been for the sacrifices veterans throughout the history of our great nation made in defense of freedom. It is right and proper to honor Dr. King, but today our cherished slogan “For God, for Country and for Yale” is, in part, empty. From the 1920s to the early ’60s, traffic stopped in many cities at 11 a.m. on Veterans’ Day, yet we cannot take one day from our academic calendar to pause and remember. How can we as Americans rationalize not only our institutions’ disregard for the solemnity of Veterans’ Day, but also the ignorance of the sacrifices made for the freedoms we so often take for granted? Rationalizations of scheduling conflicts and the temporal proximity of Thanksgiving Recess lack merit; following that train of thought, the only viable holidays should be those that fall on convenient dates. I hope to God that Christmas never becomes an inconvenient date.
Although the University will hold a ceremony at 11 a.m. today in honor of the renovated Hewitt Quadrangle and Ledyard Flagstaff, some students will not be able to attend. Although John T. Downey ’51 (the major honoree), current ROTC students and alumni from the Yale College Class of 1951 are invited to the ceremony, many current Yalies will be attending a lecture or section, working at a campus job or even eating lunch in Commons, near the dedicatory walls of the Woolsey Hall rotunda, because they do not even realize it is Veterans’ Day. A school with the distinction of Nathan Hale’s alumnus status should do far more than a low-key, low-publicized and low-attended (at least by students) ceremony.
And so I conclude with the sentiments of Dwight D. Eisenhower regarding Veterans’ Day: “On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
Alex Gregath is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College.