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To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with lots of pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.
With those words, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day on November 11, 1919, one year following the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War. Congress called for Calvin Coolidge to issue a similar proclamation by concurrent resolution in 1926, and the day was made a legal holiday in 1938. In 1954, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day, to honor all the aviators, sailors, and soldiers who served their country in uniform.
My grandfather, who fought in the First World War, never liked the change; he regarded Armistice Day as the special province of veterans of the Great War, and preferred to honor other American combat veterans separately. William Allen King was inducted into the service in Abbeville in September 1917, served with the Allied Expeditionary Force in France, and was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army as a private first class at Camp Gordon in July 1919, at least according to the framed copies of his discharge papers and enlistment record I have in my home.
Also in my home are the framed medals of Will King’s brother-in-law, Ernest Wilton Cook, who was inducted into the service in April 1941 and served as a private first class in the U.S. Army’s 43rd Infantry Division, which came to be known as the “Winged Victory Division” after Albany native John H. Hester was replaced as commanding general by Leonard F. Wing. For his service in places like Guadalcanal and Luzon in the Second World War, Ernest Cook was awarded the American Defense Service Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with one bronze arrowhead and three bronze service stars), the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the National Defense Service Medal, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon (with one bronze service star), and the Purple Heart. My father, Wilton King, was named for his uncle.
Ernest Cook’s grandfather, Isom Nathaniel Underwood Cook, served in the 10th Infantry Battalion of the Army of the Confederate States of America, spending time as a prisoner of war in Maryland before returning to South Georgia after the War Between the States. Because his home was in Andersonville, which served as a constant reminder of the War, he moved to Wilcox County, where my family resides to this day. I.N.U. Cook is buried in a private family cemetery near Pineview.
In short, I, like many Americans, have much family history bound up in Veterans Day, and, by whatever name the holiday is known, it has been a big day for our country, as well as for college football fans. On Friday, November 11, 1932, for instance, the Georgia Bulldogs played the Clemson Tigers at Fort Hill for the first time since 1906, and the Greenville News reported that it was to be “the greatest celebration to be staged on the Clemson campus since 1922 when Coach Charlie Moran brought the famous Centre eleven here to draw a record attendance.”
Although that Armistice Day kickoff was set for 2:00 in the afternoon, the festivities were scheduled to get underway at 10:30 that morning, complete with exhibition drills and honor guards. Booths were constructed to register the attendance of the many alumni who were expected to be present for homecoming, and box seats were built to accommodate the up to 5,000 spectators who would be in attendance at Riggs Field.
The governors of the Palmetto and Peach States were at the game, and such visiting coaches as Auburn’s Sam McAllister, Furman’s Dizzy McLeod, and Georgia Tech’s Bill Alexander and Bobby Dodd were spotted in the press box, from which they were scouting one or the other of the combatants. The halftime celebration featured foot races, mule races, and drills by the cadet corps Senior Platoon. A tea dance was slated to begin in the field house immediately following the football game.
Judging by the comments and fanposts frequently appearing here, I would estimate that the four most common career paths pursued by regular Dawg Sports readers who have completed their formal classroom education are (in alphabetical order) accounting, law, the military, and teaching. Accountants don’t get a federal holiday because they make the rest of us suffer through April 15; teachers don’t get a federal holiday because they get July; lawyers don’t get a federal holiday because . . . hey, wait a minute; why don’t lawyers get a federal holiday?
Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand: several of the veterans who post here regularly have made it very clear just how much their connection to the day-to-day folkways of civilian existence, including but not limited to the emotional ties athletics inspire, matters to them when they are far from home and in harm’s way. Those of us whose professions do not call upon us to risk life and limb in defense of venerable ideals and millions of our countrymen whom we will never meet have responded with tiny yet heartfelt expressions of gratitude, such as the tip of the cap offered to McSlugger as a regular part of our game day comment threads.
Brave men and women of every background, ideology, and, yes, even team affiliation voluntarily wear the uniform of our country and sacrifice their comfort, their safety, and even their lives, paradoxically surrendering many of their own freedoms for the preservation of the rest of ours. Whether you have the day off in commemoration of the occasion or are going in to work today, whether you know this as Armistice Day or as Veterans Day, be sure to express your gratitude to the many veterans whose service has made it possible for us to enjoy the luxury of being concerned with such ephemeral matters as intercollegiate athletics, and take a moment to send up a prayer for the safe return home of the aviators, sailors, and soldiers whose service we too frequently take for granted.
Happy Veterans Day. God bless America.