PIERRE, S.D. — Next week, America will observe its 56th Veterans Day. It hasn’t always been so. In 1938, Congress declared Nov. 11 — designated Armistice Day — a federal holiday to commemorate the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when World War I ended. In 1954, at the urging of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Congress changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day to honor American veterans of all wars. Then politics intervened.
In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson pressed his cronies in Congress to pass the so-called “Uniform Monday Holiday Bill” — a measure giving federal workers three-day weekends by “moving” Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day to the nearest Mondays on the calendar. Congress complied, and U.S. Marines — renowned for boisterously celebrating the Nov. 10, 1775, founding of the Marine Corps — were devastated. For a decade, Marine “Birthday Balls” were staid, quiet affairs that ended early in the evening with minimal consumption of adult beverages.
Then, in 1978, thanks to the ministrations of President Gerald Ford, Congress restored observance of Veterans Day to its original date, Nov. 11. Since then, Marines have toasted their historic anniversary assured of a federal holiday the next morning. And this year, our commander in chief will “celebrate” both the Marine Corps’ birthday and Veterans Day while he’s making history on the most expensive overseas trip ever taken by an American head of state. The rest of us will be urged to mark the holiday by purchasing a car or a mattress to help our sputtering economy.
There’s little doubt that Americans understand the economic mess we’re in. We can see the foreclosure signs and the empty storefronts, and most of us know someone who has lost a job. These are tough times — and it was reflected in this week’s midterm elections. Public opinion surveys show that more than 61 percent of our fellow citizens believe the country has been heading in the wrong direction. Overwhelmingly, we cast votes to elect legislators, mayors, county supervisors and governors who represent traditional American values, who will stop the rampant expansion of government spending, intrusion and taxation in our lives and who offer hope for a better future.
Unlike the 2006 midterm elections — when “the war” was the major issue and Republicans lost 36 seats and majority control in Congress — this time combat in southwest Asia was hardly mentioned by the victors or the losers. On the morning after his party and his policies were repudiated by the electorate, President Obama devoted a single sentence of his news conference to the war. That means political pundits and campaign consultants don’t think winning or losing in Afghanistan and Iraq matters. They are wrong.
Six of the new Republican members of Congress — nearly 10 percent of those making up the new majority in the House of Representatives — are veterans of the war we have been fighting since 9/11. They have been part of the brightest, best-educated and best-trained military force the world has ever known. Their constituents expect them to cut federal spending, help make private-sector job creation easier and get government off our backs — but they don’t want them to gut America’s defenses to get it done.
That’s what I’m hearing and seeing as I crisscross America signing my new book, “American Heroes in Special Operations.” As we approach Veterans Day, that’s a message Obama needs to hear, no matter how far from home he wanders.
Those buying this book are overwhelmingly veterans or their family members. Undoubtedly, they are not all Republicans, and neither are the soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines I cover for Fox News. Despite the many months I have spent in the field with them, we rarely have talked politics. What we do talk about — on-air and off — is winning the war. They mean to do so. They are overwhelmingly committed to it. They volunteered to serve — as Gen. David Petraeus put it a few weeks ago when we were together in Afghanistan — “knowing they were going to war.”
The bright, brave, incredibly fit and talented young Americans documented in this book — and their families here at home — are making extraordinary sacrifices for this country. They fit the classical definition of heroes: those who put themselves at risk for the benefit of others. They deserve better than to have their commitment squandered by Washington’s power brokers — regardless of party affiliation.
Here in the capital of South Dakota, there is a statue of my departed friend Joe Foss. He was a U.S. Marine aviator and a World War II Medal of Honor recipient, and he served here as a legislator and a governor. He’s revered for his service to the people of his state and our country. He never felt it necessary to apologize to any foreign potentate for being an American. With our nation at war, that’s something else our president ought to keep in mind as he meets with all those other leaders this Veterans Day.