By Meg Walburn Viviano
It’s not uncommon to have an Election Day and Veterans Day fall just over a week apart. After all, Election Day has been “the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November” since Congress passed a federal law in 1845. This year it fell on Nov. 3. And Veterans Day is always observed on Nov. 11, signifying the end of World War I, in the 11th hour of Nov. 11, 1918.
But even if the scheduling of these two federal holidays had nothing to do with each other, their proximity seems poignant.
The challenges of this year have inspired a record number of Americans to engage in national decision-making. Anticipation has been building for months as Marylanders waited for a chance to make their voices heard at the polls. There is a lot at stake in 2020, including the path our nation will take in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus has threatened our health, our everyday lives, and our economy. When the pandemic began, most of us had never experienced grocery shortages, stay-at-home orders, or rationing of essential items like toilet paper. Most of us, that is, except for the small population of surviving Marylanders who lived through World War II.
Last spring, social media posts circulated comparing today’s struggles to those faced by the Greatest Generation. We sewed masks for essential workers in 2020, like WWII families saved tin from their toothpaste tubes for war supplies. Distilleries switched production from spirits to hand sanitizer in 2020, like WWII automobile factories switched to building tanks. Looking to the sacrifices made long ago by our eldest neighbors felt reassuring—their generation came out stronger in the end.
There are 6,373 living World War II veterans left in Maryland in 2020, according to the National WWII Veterans Museum. That’s roughly 0.1 percent of the state’s population. Small as the group is, this should be the year we appreciate them more than ever. Our own pandemic sacrifices help us relate in some ways to much larger sacrifices made in the war effort—and those made by all American veterans in all wars.
The Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay is rich in military tradition, from Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade to the U.S. Naval Academy and Naval Air Station Pax River. In this issue of Bay Weekly, we salute American veterans—from highlighting events to mark the holiday in our Bay Planner to shedding light on programs that support soldiers after their service is finished.
We hope you’ll take this time after Election Day to focus on the veterans among us, from the 0.1 percent that served in World War II to the recent servicemen and women who made everyday sacrifices long before there was a pandemic.