Last month two military veterans who live in rural areas wrote to me; they first asked me to write about the origins of Veterans Day; the second veteran professed his appreciation for living in a rural area. He also encouraged me to write about why many people in military service have rural and agricultural backgrounds, and why many veterans choose to live in rural areas and to engage in agriculture.
I dug out my history books and learned that Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day, in remembrance of the formal declaration to the end of World War I on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918.
A year later President Woodrow Wilson asked Americans to remember the laying down of arms between the previously battling countries, hence the use of the terms, Remembrance Day and Armistice Day, which were still used in my little rural Iowa community when I attended memorial events at school and church. I was stirred with reverence when several veterans of WWI and WWII fired their military rifles three times to salute fallen heroes of these wars, after which my schoolmates and I scrambled to retrieve the empty rifle cartridges.
After WWII ended in 1945, Raymond Weeks, a veteran from Birmingham, Alabama, led a delegation of local survivors of the recently-ended military conflagration in a service that November 11th to join those remembering Armistice Day. In 1947 the delegation approached General Dwight Eisenhower to encourage national remembrance services for the veterans of both world wars; Eisenhower liked the idea.
By 1954, the suggestion took hold in Congress when a bill proposed by Kansas Representative Ed Rees was approved by Congress and signed into law by his fellow Kansan, then-President Eisenhower. November 11 was officially renamed Veterans Day.
Rees and Eisenhower both had farming roots, for Rees was born to parents who farmed near Emporia, Kansas, and Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas to parents whose ancestors had emigrated from Germany to the U.S. to acquire farmland. Eisenhower’s father, David, defied his father’s wishes to farm and became an engineer and store proprietor instead, but when his merchandising business in Texas failed, the family and young Dwight moved to Abilene, Kansas.
Veterans Day became a federal holiday that is annually celebrated on November 11, but only four states – Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Oregon – require private employers to furnish paid time off to veterans. The U.S. Postal Service and the Wall Street Stock Market are officially closed on November 11, but banks may choose if they wish to close, which most usually do.
There are six branches of the U.S. Military: the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, and the newly formed Space Force. The Space Force, authorized in 2019 by President Trump and the Department of Defense, has about 10,000 active personnel currently. The Army National Guard and the Air National Guard are reserve components of their respective services and operate partly under state authority.
As of July 2020, there were about 1.3 million active-duty U.S. Military personnel, of whom 165,000 were deployed. Military Reserves totaled 860,000 persons. Women comprised 16 percent of the enlisted persons and 19 percent of the officers.
From the Revolutionary War to present-day America’s military men and women have disproportionately originated from rural and agricultural backgrounds, 44 percent today, when only 17 percent of Americans reside in rural areas, according to a 2020 report of the U.S. Department of Defense.
According to the Defense Department, rural recruits – especially those with farm backgrounds—are likely to become good soldiers because these recruits – both males and females – tend to tolerate adversity well, possess many practical skills, are comfortable with the rigors of a demanding lifestyle, respond readily to training, and willingly choose military careers for at least part of lives. Persons with urban backgrounds are less likely to pursue military lifestyles, even though many are highly qualified.
The Veterans Administration reported that 24 percent of all veterans choose to live their subsequent years in rural communities. Moreover, 11 percent of all U.S. farmers have served – or are serving – in the military even though only 2 percent of Americans are engaged in agriculture as their chosen way of life, according to a 2018 American Farm Bureau Federation edition of Fast Facts about Agriculture and Food.
I have suggested in past columns that the motives of persons who engage in military and agricultural livelihoods share important commonalities. Both want to serve basic human needs: Persons serving in the military want to protect their fellow citizens, their country, and the values of its people and espoused by its government; agricultural producers strive to furnish other essentials for life – food, fibers for clothing and shelter, renewable fuels – and to protect the resources necessary for their production.
Military veterans, especially those who were deployed, may seek solace in rural environments, according to a 2018 study by Sarah Beehler and three other authors that were reported in the Journal of Rural Mental Health. Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder often choose to live in quiet rural locations where they feel safer than in noisier and higher populated areas.
The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) reported on July 1, 2020, that the number of veterans living in rural areas declined from 6.6 million in 1992 to 3.2 million in 2018. This decline was due mostly to a decrease in the number of active duty Military personnel from 3.2 million in 1992 to 1.3 million in 2018.
Veterans living in rural areas are older as a group than veterans who reside in urban areas. They also have more disabilities, says the ERS.
It is incumbent on all of us to respect our military veterans, for we have benefited from their services. Likewise, let’s look out for the welfare of agricultural producers, especially those who also are aging veterans of military service, for they may require special care for their health and well-being.