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The History of Veterans Day

More Volunteers Needed to Help America's Heroes

By Edward Maguire

It is difficult for me to comprehend the immensity of this year – the 100th anniversary of the creation of Veterans Day. In 1919, Woodrow Wilson penned out the framework of what was then called Armistice Day. This would later be reclassified by our nation’s Congress as Veterans Day. Our nation was healing from the wounds received in the Great War (what we have come to know as World War I).

At that time, Woodrow Wilson stated, “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.”

Back here in Oklahoma, this was something new and without precedence. The Nov. 26, 1919, issue of the Wewoka Democrat reported there was a rally by the veterans of Seminole County. That rally stemmed from the notion that the veterans would collectively voice their support of the day by not working past noon on Nov. 11.

Those veterans marked that day with an Army-Navy football game held in the city of Wewoka. That publication goes on to discuss how our leaders traveled the state to garner support for this day. U.S. House Rep. Scott Farris (5th Congressional District of Oklahoma) barnstormed and partially ran for the U.S. Senate on that platform.

The day would come and go from that point forward. It continued in this manner until 1926 when our nation’s Congress voted to resolve that this day be memorialized by each president, by calling for the observance of Nov. 11 “with appropriate ceremonies and annual proclamations.”

It would remain in this state of “pomp” and “circumstance” until May 13, 1938, when Congress enacted a resolution that each Nov. 11 will be observed as a national holiday and will “thereinafter be known as ARMISTICE DAY.”

Almost a decade later, and after another war to end all wars, Rev. Raymond Weeks would take up the banner and the cause for all veterans. Rev. Weeks lobbied Congress and the president(s) to make Armistice Day a day for all those who have fought and sacrificed for our nation. Weeks believed that this was the best way to honor and support those who served in all times of conflict.

His requests for support of our nation’s heroes paid off!

Eight years of devotion to our heroes had passed before Congress finally changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1954, President Eisenhower would codify the vision of Rev. Weeks.1 Weeks would later be aptly named by Elizabeth Dole, leader and life-long supporter of veterans, as the “father” of Veterans Day. On Nov. 11, 1982, President Reagan awarded Rev. Weeks with the Presidential Citizen Medal to honor Weeks’ self-sacrificing service to our nation’s service members.

President Reagan concluded that ceremony by proclaiming, “So let us go forth from here, having learned the lessons of history, confident in the strength of our system, and anxious to pursue every avenue toward peace. And on this Veterans Day, we will remember and be firm in our commitment to peace, and those who died in defense of our freedom will not have died in vain.”2

The common thread of this day is support. It is continued support. As a nation and a state, we have ebbed and flowed our patriotism to suit our times. In times of peace and prosperity our notion of commitment becomes strained. This doesn’t mean we do not support the veteran or this day. It just means that we have sometimes forgotten what this day is about.

The day is not a day for the veteran. It is a day for our nation to honor the veteran. This may seem a semantical distinction, but it is more important than that.3 This day is our chance as a nation and as a state to say “Thank you” and thereby lift-up the veteran. This is the day that we raise our voices of gratitude and collectively offer our support of the veteran. Now, we ask for others to support the veteran as Raymond Weeks did so many years ago.

VOLUNTEER LAWYERS NEEDED TO HELP
Nov. 11, 2019, is no different. Now come ye presence and be known, as they used to say at muster, we need your help to support our state and nation’s veterans.

You can do this in many ways, and many do this daily. Today, we ask that you consider joining in our efforts to service the legal needs of our veterans through the OBA’s Oklahoma Lawyers for America’s Heroes Program.

This is an amazing program that offers free legal services to veterans of our state who meet certain threshold needs and requirements. The vision of OBA Past President Deborah Reheard, the Heroes Program is a volunteer-driven service.

Currently, we have around 700 OBA member volunteers, who handle a wide array of opportunities to keep our nation on “mission ready status.” They do this by assisting them in their daily needs. Attorneys from all walks of practice (and life) fight for our veterans’ rights.

The volunteers come from various sections. Be it criminal, family, employment, estate planning or access to justice, we have people who stand up to answer the “rallying cry” that past Heroes Coordinator Margaret Travis discussed in last year’s bar journal.

We ask that you join us in our annual cry for support!

WHO WE’VE HELPED
This year alone we have helped hundreds of veterans. We have handled criminal matters affecting special operations personnel. We have assisted our state’s remaining World War II veterans in their estate planning needs. We have helped veterans of the Vietnam War obtain benefits. In addition, we have helped individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder obtain much needed access to benefits. We have done numerous guardianships. We have handled dissolution of marriages. There is little we have not done.

Collectively we have donated millions of dollars in time to our veterans, but we need more assistance. Our numbers are down.

As Rev. Weeks found, our interest in support is waning a bit. As a result, many of our veterans remain unplaced and as a program we need more volunteers. We need champions who will say “I can help.” Or, better yet “we can help.”

Of the active requests this year, many remain open. These are largely in the family law area of practice. Many of our volunteers have retired. Some have moved on. Others have elevated their careers and are unable to offer the support at the same levels as before. That’s why we need you!

WHO QUALIFIES FOR SERVICES?
A hero must be a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, currently active or on reserve duty for the U.S. armed forces. If on active duty or a member of the guard or reserves, the hero’s pay grade must be an E-6 or below. If a veteran, the hero’s gross income per year cannot exceed $40,000 (all income is considered and the veteran must have an honorable discharge). Finally, they must have a legal issue that is tied to Oklahoma and cannot be currently represented by counsel.

Consistent with previous years, nearly half of the cases involve family law, such as dissolution of marriage, adoption and paternity. About 13% of legal services awarded are criminal issues (primarily VPOs and DUIs) followed by 8% of debt issue cases. General civil cases and disability each represent about 5% of cases. Other legal needs are real estate, tort/personal injury, estate planning, landlord/tenant, probate, military, employment, contracts/breach, administrative/immigration,
discrimination and taxes.

HEROS WAITING FOR VOLUNTEER HELP
Being a part of this organization is an honor. As a veteran myself, I understand the crisis many veterans face each day. Persons from all walks of life have sacrificed for our freedoms, our way of life, and they need our help with their family, with their benefits, with such a wide array of legal needs.

Knowing that legal volunteers are willing to reach out and lend free help is powerful. It is the power of support that Rev. Weeks and Deborah Reheard envisioned.

How do you participate? Volunteer. Without the volunteers, this program will falter.

New processes and plans are being implemented daily. We have recently received a donation to help offset the fees for some of our veterans. That program is in its inception. Although new, this should help some of our volunteers defer the costs of some of their legal needs. New rules are in place that make us able to offer more support on a limited basis. Limited scope representation is what we call this, but that isn’t really what we are saying.

What we are saying is that we will “triage” each veteran in a manner that gets the job done –quickly and without reservation.

Your service is a piece of string. YOU decide how long or short it will be.

Some volunteers are handling everything from trial to appeal. Others are handling no-contest dissolutions of marriage. Many answer daily questions. A few are handing out guardianship papers to the veterans like Bob S. from Owasso. He is a combat veteran who is now in the ubiquitous position of grandparent caregiver. He couldn’t enroll his grandchild in sports, get immunizations or even grant the child’s school permission to take his grandchild to the Capitol because he was not the child’s guardian.

Guess what? A volunteer stepped in and helped Bob and his wife get things done. In doing so, that volunteer not only helped that veteran, they also helped the soldier (the next generation and father) stay on mission status in Afghanistan! This full circle of support and devotion has made that family’s burden a lot smaller!

Bob asks all of us to help.

Without us he would have been out money that he can’t afford to spend. Without us, he would have remained floundering on his own! Without us, his grandchild would have stayed behind for the annual trip to our state’s Capitol.

Find a way. Make this a continued reality. Continue to support this program. Call me, your Heroes Program coordinator, and sign up to answer our call for support. Help continue the vision of honor that so many of us instill in our lives. It’s easy to sign up as a volunteer online at www.okbarheroes.org.

Semper Fidelis!

Mr. Maguire is the OBA Heroes Program coordinator. You can reach him at 405-416-7086 or email him at heroes@okbar.org.

1. Carter, Julie, “Where Veterans Day Began,” VFW MagazineNovember 2003Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. Archived from the original on July 14, 2012.
2. unrememberedhistory.com/2016/11/11/raymond-weeks-the-father-of-veterans-day.
3. Veterans Day Frequently Asked Questions, Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Updated July 20, 2015.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 90 pg. 40 (November 2019)