Dear Grandson Letter: Cat Warfare…What is Veterans Day?

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Dear Grandson,

Well it has been quite a week with the election and all.  Politics are always interesting and elections always have winners and losers.  Since, I worked in politics for many years, I have been on both the happy and sad side of election outcomes.  The important thing is that regardless of who won or lost the election we always are kind, respectful and considerate of those who may have voted differently than ourselves.  Nobody likes an obnoxious winner or a sore loser.  In politics and sports….good sportsmanship counts.

I just cannot believe this beautiful weather.  I have spent most of this week outside playing with my dogs.  Oliver is getting bigger all the time and Truman is just perfect as always.  I also have been thinking a lot about what I should write to you about this week regarding Cat Warfare.  Yesterday as I was speaking to an old veteran at the Toyota Dealership as grandpa and I waited for our car’s oil to be changed, grandpa sure did eat a lot of cookies, it occurred to me that I should tell you about something all of these letters have in common….veterans.

I have had several very exciting jobs…being an aide to a State Senator, Press Secretary and Assistant Communications Director for Minnesota’s Secretary of State,  Committee Administrator for the House of Representative’s Committee of Government and Veterans Affairs, Acting Communications Director for the Minnesota Department of Veteran’s affairs and project manager for our state’s World War II Memorial Dedication.  That’s right your grandmother organized a party for over 27,000 people.

Of all the jobs I have had in politics and government management the ones I treasure the most were when I could help take care of veterans.  We have several veterans in our family.  As you know from a past Cat Warfare letter you had a Great-Great Uncle Wendall who was killed in action in Korea.  Well, his cousin Eugene was killed in action in that same war.  The young men were killed a month apart and are buried side by side in our hometown cemetery.  Your great-grandpa is a retired Navy veteran.  His other brother and brother-in-law were both World War II veterans.  Great-Great-Great Uncle Alfred…was a World War I veteran. Your great grandpa lives in Alfred’s house.

It is World War I where I need to begin to explain about Veterans Day.  As you may recall from your Sir Snaggle Puss letter, World War I was called the “War to End All Wars” and was fought in Europe.  It lasted from July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918.  More than 70 million soldiers fought in the war.  Over nine million soldiers and seven million civilians died during this conflict.

All of the world’s great economic powers of that time period took part in this war.  There were two opposing alliances.  The Allies, our side, included the British Empire, France, Italy, Japan, Russian Empire and United States.  Our enemy during WWI was the Central Powers Alliance that consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.

This war was fought on the seas and in deep trenches.  Trench warfare as a military tactic was first proposed during the American Civil War by Confederate General James Longstreet.  He figured out that battle tactics had grossly lagged behind the improvements in weaponry resulting in a horrific increase in battle casualties. So, by the time World War I came around men dug deep trenches for protection and defense.

Fighting in trenches had its own unique dangers such as poison gas attacks, and disease spread by the many rodents who took up residence with the soldiers in these filthy, muddy battle ditches.  To help protect soldiers from disease, over 500,000 cats were drafted into the service of their country and dispatched to the trenches.  Their job was to kill rats and mice.

Not only were cats sent to battle in the trenches they were also placed on navy ships. Whether they liked water or not, these sea bound cats took their duty seriously and worked hard to keep their ships vermin free.

Having cats on military ships was not new. The practice dates back to the times of the ancient Egyptians who already understood that cats would kill the rats and mice that spread disease and ate up their food during long voyages.  They also believed that cats were good luck charms.  During World War I cats such as “Togo”, “Pincher” and “Spark Plug”, became famous ship mascots.  One cat even became a hero by saving his soldier’s life…but that is another story.

The first Veterans Day was on November 11, 1919, and was called Armistice Day.  It observed the signing of the treaty that ended World War I, which took place in the 11th month, on the 11th day, at the 11 hour.  That is why Veterans Day is on November 11.

At that time, in both Europe and America this day was set aside to remember World War I war dead.  In 1926 Congress adopted a resolution proclaiming an annual observance with appropriate ceremonies.  A Congressional Act in 1938 made November 11 a legal holiday.  In 1945, Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, organized “National Veterans Day,” which included a parade and other activities.  He held his event on November 11, which was still called Armistice Day.  Weeks is known as the “Father of Veterans Day”.  Later, U.S. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas proposed a bill that would change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1954, Congress passed the bill and President Eisenhower signed it into law proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day.

Wearing a red poppy on your shirt in the United States is traditionally a symbol for Memorial Day, not Veterans Day.  If you wear a poppy it should be pinned onto the lapel of your shirt, over your heart with the leave pointing up to the position of 11 a.m. on a clock.  It is the symbol of war dead, because of a very sad poem written by a young military doctor named Major John McCrae.

Dr. McCrae was asked to conduct the funeral service for his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer who was killed by an artillery shell explosion. It is believed that the evening after his friend’s burial McCrae wrote the famous poem, “In Flanders Fields the Poppies Blow.”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

All of our nation’s veterans are heroes and have earned our gratitude and respect.  Veterans Day is a day to thank them for their service and sacrifice.  The difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day is Veterans Day is when we honor both the living and the dead and Memorial Day is for remembering the brave souls who gave the lives on the field of battle.

Now, for the story about the hero cat of World War I who saved a soldier’s life.

Pitouchi was an orphaned kitten who was born in the battle trenches.  He was found and taken care of by Lieutenant Lekeux of the Belgian Army.  The cat and this soldier became inseparable.

One day Pitouchi’s human soldier was sent to spy on the enemy…the Germans.  The human saw that they were digging a new trench.  Pitouchi and his soldier hid in a hole made by a bomb explosion.  His human immediately began to sketch the new positions of the enemy, so he could warn his fellow soldiers.

The human become so focused on his work, he became unaware of his surroundings and did not notice that several German soldiers were coming up to his location.  When he finally saw them, it was too late to run away.  So, this cat’s human decided to lay very still hoping not to be noticed.

Humans are big and Pitouchi quickly realized that his human’s idea was sure to fail.  The cat jumped out of the hole and landed on a broken piece of a tree.  This startled the German’s who fired two shots at the cat.  Both bullets missed Pitouchi and he jumped back into the hole with his beloved human.  The German soldiers laughed because they had been scared by a cat. They turned and walked away.  Pitouchi’s human finished his drawings and gave his life-saving hero of a cat a ride on his shoulder back to safety.

See it isn’t just dogs that are man’s best friend, cats, too, are very brave pets…even in a war zone.

Have a great week and if you see someone wearing a hat that says they’re a veteran take time to tell them thank you for their service. It will make your day and theirs. Tell that to your great grandpa and just watch him smile.

Love and lots of hugs,

Grandma Pat

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