My daughter Mimi called me up many years ago and said, “Hey Dad, let’s take a crack at running the New York Marathon.” I trained for six months for the 1987 race. They shot the gun off in the air, about 22,000 runners started, 21,244 runners finished and 1.5 million people lined the streets.
First place went to a Kenyan: 2 hours, 11 minutes, 1 second. The last place finisher was a Vietnam veteran – 4 days, 2 hours, 48 minutes and 17 seconds. This human being, Bob Wieland, covered 26 miles, 385 yards with no legs. He ran on his hands. My daughter and I had passed him in the first few minutes of the race. It wasn’t too difficult to finish the race after seeing that display of bravery and determination, so typical of our country’s military.
As a student of history, I have always been particularly fascinated with the impact our armed forces have had on our American experience. In so many ways, they have shaped the country we have become as they defended the freedoms we enjoy. It’s only fitting that there is a national holiday honoring the remarkable service of these selfless men and women.
This year marks the 97th anniversary of the last day of World War I, which took place at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson decreed that Nov. 11 should be observed as Armistice Day, with companies honoring the occasion by suspending business for two minutes at 11 a.m. and communities holding subsequent parades and events.
In 1938, Congress enacted legislation making Armistice Day a legal federal holiday. In 1954, veteran organizations successfully lobbied Congress to change the name of the observance to “Veterans Day” in order to include and honor the efforts of those who fought in World War II and in the Korean War. In 1968, the federal government passed legislation to observe legal holidays on Mondays, arguing that three-day weekends would encourage travel and recreation, thus stimulating the economy.
But the significance of the date was not lost on President Gerald Ford. During his term, Veterans Day was moved back to November 11 to honor its history.
Today, U.S. military officials point out that many people confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day. Memorial Day honors military personnel who died in battle or as a result of their wounds. Veterans Day is set aside to thank and honor all those who served in the military, in wartime and in peacetime. It is intended to thank living veterans for their services, to acknowledge their contributions to national security, and to underscore their sacrifice and duty.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are around 21.8 million living veterans, out of our total population of more than 320 million. Statistically, that gives each of us plenty of opportunity to personally say thanks for their service.
I offer this brief history lesson for a reason: No other group in American history deserves recognition more than our veterans. I am honored to devote my column to those who have served our country and those who continue to protect us today.
There’s a business side to military service too. Training, discipline, leadership, accountability, loyalty – all traits that are ingrained in the military are just as important to business success. We ask our service members to do jobs that no one really wants to do. They aren’t offered a choice to say no. Great leaders are groomed in service as well.
I once shared the podium with General William Westmoreland, who told this story on himself.
Westmoreland was in Korea in the ’50s, speaking to 10,000 Korean cadets out in the audience. They obviously didn’t speak English, so there was an interpreter. Most speakers like to open up with a humorous story, and Westmoreland was no different. He took 45 seconds to tell a humorous story.
An interpreter, standing right next to him, took 7 seconds to relate the information. All of a sudden, 10,000 Korean cadets were hooting with laughter.
Westmoreland was outraged. “What’s going on here?” he asked. “I take 45 seconds to tell a story, you take 7 seconds, they’re all hollering with laughter, what did you tell them?”
“I tell them American general tell funny story, everybody laugh.”
Mackay’s Moral: Veterans, we salute you.