Communities across Alabama are gearing up to recognize one month from today those who have served in the nation’s armed forces, although the partial government shutdown has caused some concern.
Parades, wreath-layings and other patriotic ceremonies are planned throughout the state on Nov. 11, including in Birmingham, home of America’s oldest Veterans Day parade.
Mark Ryan, president of National Veterans Day in Birmingham, which organizes the parade and other events, says this year’s celebration is coming together well except for some uncertainty about military participation.
“You never know for certain how many military units are going to be involved, especially this year with the government shutdown,” Ryan said. “But there is generally a great deal of military involvement in the parade. Not to mention the high school bands and the civic organizations and corporate people who put some type of float in the parade.”
Lt. Col. Shannon Hancock, public affairs officer for the Alabama National Guard, said unless the shutdown is resolved, Guard units won’t be able to march this year. Hancock said they must be on paid status to officially participate and to wear their uniforms in the parade.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will be resolved,” Ryan said. “They’ve got a month to get this resolved and then I will be a happy guy.”
Even if the shutdown is not resolved, Ryan said the parade would be a success.
“We’re still going to have a good parade,” Ryan said. “They may not be able to be there officially as representatives of their respective military branches. But I’ve talked to many of them and they will be there.”
There are about 420,000 veterans in Alabama, almost 10 percent of the state’s population, said Bob Horton, public information officer for the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs.
Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Department of Tourism, said Veterans Day is important in Alabama partly because of the large number of military bases in the state, from Redstone Arsenal to Fort Rucker.
“Veterans Day in Alabama has been a special day for several decades,” Sentell said. “Alabama has one of the largest numbers of retired military and one of the largest National Guards of any state our size.”
The end of World War I led to what is now Veterans Day.
An armistice to end the war took effect on Nov. 11, 1918, although the Treaty of Versailles to officially end the conflict was not signed until seven months later. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared Nov. 11 Armistice Day.
In 1938, Congress made Armistice Day a legal holiday, mainly to recognize those who had served in World War I.
After World War II, Raymond Weeks of Birmingham was a key leader in advocating to change the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.
“He felt like we needed a day to recognize and celebrate all veterans of all conflicts,” Ryan said.
Weeks led the first National Veterans Day Parade in Birmingham in 1947. In 1954, Congress officially changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.
As part of the annual celebration, National Veterans Day in Birmingham presents the National Veterans Award. This year’s award will go to the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American pilots in the U.S. military. One of the Airmen, retired Lt. Col. James H. Harvey III, will accept the award on behalf of the unit.
Here are some of the Veterans Day events scheduled around the state.