As we observe this national holiday, we salute our heroes and all the families who have kept the home fires burning.
The South has a long history of military service, with major bases scattered from Maryland to Texas. So it’s no surprise that we love Veterans Day (November 11). First proclaimed as Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, the holiday was made official by Congress in 1938 but originally honored only veterans of World War I. The name changed to Veterans Day in 1954, recognizing American veterans of all wars.
So what’s especially Southern about this day of remembrance and gratitude? Here are a few Veterans Day facts:
- While the biggest Veterans Day parade in the country is held in New York, the longest-running—the National Veterans Day Parade—has been held in Birmingham, AL since 1947. Another major Southern celebration happens in Houston, whose metro area is home to some 300,000 veterans. Branson, MO, hosts an annual Veterans Homecoming celebration with events, shows, a parade, and more. Washington, D.C., does not host a Veterans Day parade, but it holds many other special events to honor veterans.
- Among the Navy’s most daring ambassadors are the famed Blue Angels, more formally known as the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, which includes both Navy and Marine pilots. Based in Pensacola, FL, the Blue Angels held their first show at Craig Field in Jacksonville, FL, in 1946.
- You don’t have to come from a big city to be a Southern hero. Newnan, GA was just a small town when Medal of Honor recipients Lt. Colonel Joe M. Jackson and Major Stephen W. Pless were born there. Jackson served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; Pless served in Vietnam.
- One of the most decorated soldiers of World War I was Sergeant Alvin C. York, born near Pall Mall, TN. As many times as we’ve seen it, we still can’t bypass his biopic, Sergeant York, with Gary Cooper in the starring role. York won the Medal of Honor for a particularly daring attack on the Germans, portrayed in the movie. He was one of 11 children.
- Arguably the most decorated soldier of World War II was a soft-spoken Texan named Audie Murphy. His many combat awards and citations included the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, and many more. His heroism landed him an acting career after the war. Murphy played himself in the 1955 film adaptation of his autobiography, To Hell and Back.
- Lt. General Russel L. Honore had a long and distinguished career before he became a household name as commander of the Joint Task Force-Katrina. Who doesn’t remember the footage of Honore marching into New Orleans and restoring order?
We’ve cited some of the South’s famous heroes—but we know every family has its own. So many of us have images tucked away in boxes or albums—young men and women in uniform, many of them far from home in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We hope you’ll share them with us.
Also, because so few World War II veterans are still with us, a coalition called Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive is enlisting young volunteers to carry poster-sized photos of World War II veterans from their area in local parades. To get involved, visit spiritof45.org.