Restoring Forgotten Heritage and Tradition:
Signing with Honor
As a new human millennium dawns we reflect back on times past and imagine forward on times to come. The promises of our children's future are rooted in the heritage of our parent's past. The last 100 years have seen tremendous technological and social opportunities and benefits for military service. We have seen respect for military service rise to previously unknown heights yet descend again. Although the loss of respect for military service is always blamed on everyone and everything but ourselves, we veterans are where the buck stops when it comes to ensuring that we receive the respect and the promised benefits for our military service that we laboriously earned through great sacrifice.
Over 100 years ago a group of proud and worthy naval veterans led by Richard Dana came to realize that because respect for military service was sorely lacking they needed to do something dramatic to improve the lives of men who served. This small group of men banded together in a noble and courageous effort to advise the public through a demonstrable act that men who served gave all but received very little in return. Their brief sacrifice led Congress to enact the "Merchant Marine Law Governing the Rights of Seamen".
In the last Century, a group of disenfranchised veterans who gave all of themselves to restore peace to the European continent and ensure the vitality and security of the United States of America returned home to suffer greater hardship and loss than the average American during the Great Depression. Banding together, an ever growing number of American veterans, led by Walter Waters, forced Congress to again remember the sacrifices of its military veterans. The result of their work produced The G.I. Bill of Rights.
The common link in all historical efforts by veterans to improve our condition and restore respect to our ranks was in first elevating the personal dignity of the military veteran. After the Revolutionary War, illiterate men who fought unconventional, guerrilla battles against the Crown loosely referred to themselves as "sturgeons". Under the leadership of educated veterans working to ensure that all who served received their government's promised rewards, the ragtag men of George Washington's special forces battalions corrected their wartime title to henceforth be accurately known as: "Insurgents".
Following the Civil War, men who once accepted the designations, "rebels" and "demons", learned that the United States Constitution guaranteed freedom to peacefully dissent and politically organize for a constructive, democratic 'overthrow' of their federal government. Abandoning the bullet for the ballot box these men banded together to be known as "Democrats". Their fledgling organization has since grown to become one of the two largest political organizations in the United States.
From the birth of our great Nation up to the Vietnam War veterans have always proudly appreciated and displayed our special status. After the Vietnam War being a veteran was often hidden and always held in less esteem than those who made their fortune in commerce or elected office. But the time has come with a new Millennium for veterans to restore the respect we deserve by first restoring our self-respect.
A long lost tradition practiced by American veterans more frequently during the Nineteenth Century than in the Twentieth Century was signing one's name with one's military Honors. John Hannings of Delaware who served in the Civil War made it a permanent practice to always sign his name, "John Michael Hannings, P.H." Most who read Hanning's signature knew instantly that "P.H." stood for "Purple Heart." Those who did not know and questioned the meaning of Hanning's initialed title were given a succinct history on America's oldest medal.
Stephen Van Dyke of Kalamazzo, Michigan served in the Great War. He, too, made it a permanent practice to always sign his name, "Stephen Arthur Van Dyke, S.S." Corporal Van Dyke received the Silver Star.
The tradition of signing with one's military honor is still practiced by our ancestral cousins in Europe. This proud and honorable custom has been lost by us. We need to restore it. By restoring our personal dignity we restore respect and dignity for American military service.
This new Millennium offers many hopes and much optimism for America's bright and secure future. But we must never, ever forget that the future is always rooted in the past and the freedoms enjoyed by those in the present were made possible only by the sacrifices of those who gave their all in the past.
As a proud American veteran who served in America's worst war I will, today, restore my military family's respect for service by permanently adopting the traditional practice of signing my name with my military honor. Henceforth, with much regard for the noble work of Richard Dana and Walter Waters I will sign, in conclusion of this document...
Phillip R. Coleman, VSM
The American War Library
May this Century and this Millennium record the greatest achievements and advancement for All Who Served