While the nation observed Veterans Day on Thursday, a small group of military veterans and their supporters gathered at St. Petersburg’s Williams Park on Thursday to observe Armistice Day, a day that they say is to celebrate peace, and not militarism.
November 11 marked the end of hostilities in World War I in 1918 and was named Armistice Day the following year by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. In making his proclamation, Wilson said, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing 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.”
Armistice Day then became a federal holiday in 1938 and was changed to Veterans Day in 1954.
“I think a veteran like us, and this veteran here, we want peace. We saw war, and we don’t want to see how ugly it is,” said Jay Alexander, the acting president of the Tampa Bay Chapter of Veterans for Peace, who was standing right next to Mike Flannery, a Navy Veteran who served in Vietnam.
Alexander was wearing a shirt which featured a quote from former President Dwight Eisenhower on the back. Eisenhower served as Supreme Allied Commander of all forces in Europe in 1943. His quote from 1946 said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
This was the first Veterans Day/Armistice Day observance in more than 20 years that the U.S. did not have military troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. completed its withdrawal in late August, but not before a chaotic exit that included a terrorist attack that killed 13 U.S. Marines.
The rushed ending brought unfavorable comparisons to how the country exited Vietnam in 1975, putting a dark coda on America’s longest running war.
“Nation building is not our forte,” said Orlando Acosta, a U.S. Air Force Veteran and former St. Petersburg city council candidate who served in Afghanistan and was in attendance on Thursday. “Other people are much better at it than we are. Building a nation from the embers that were Afghanistan afterwards is a multi-generational task.”
One of the issues that Veterans for Peace have advocated for is the repeal of the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that gave broad authority to President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in early 2003.
“Congress has the duty of declaring a war, not the president,” Alexander says.
A major issue for the military community over the past decade plus has been the high rate of suicides among veterans. Veterans make up about 7.9% of the U.S. population, but account for about 13.5% percent of suicides in the country, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The Biden Administration announced a series of five goals and executive orders last week that they say will drive suicide prevention efforts forward. “Suicide among service members, veterans, and their families is a public health and national security crisis,” the White House said.
Veterans for Peace has not always been welcome in some Veterans and Memorial Day parades around the country. Alexander said that hasn’t been the case in Pinellas County, saying that he and some other members marched in a Gulfport event honoring veterans a few years ago.
“There are some cities that are not ‘woke’ yet. They’re still in the past,” he said. “It’s time to bring peace out there and show that we’re veterans and we saw it first-hand. We were involved in it, and we were under fire.”
Also attending the proceedings was Abimael Jimenez, a staff assistant for Congressman Charlie Crist. Jimenez read aloud a statement from Crist.
“I comment Chapter 119 of Veterans for Peace for their dedication to commemorating both Veterans the plight for peace,” the Congressman wrote.
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