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Gwin Elementary 4th-grade twins share family history of patriotism

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03-08-2013 (GWIN) - Did you know America’s National Veterans Day was founded in Birmingham by a man whose family lives in Hoover? If your answer was "no," you’re not alone. Last year, an informal study showed only 1% of Alabamians, fewer across the nation, knew Veterans Day started in Birmingham! This vital piece of city, state and national history is virtually unknown. In fact, if you were to ask most people in this state what they knew about Raymond Weeks, they couldn’t tell you much, if anything. Why? Because the history behind Raymond Weeks and his work towards realization of a National Veterans Day is not included as part of this state’s academic course of study or adopted history textbooks. At least, not yet.

This past Veterans Day, 4th graders at Gwin came across information most had never heard before: the seed for Veterans Day was rooted through the initiative of native Alabamian, Raymond Weeks. This confused most of the children because they had previously learned Veterans Day started in another state. They had read handouts from reputable publishing agencies that verified this to be true. The U.S. Congress even passed a resolution in 2003 claiming another state founded Veterans Day.

This new teaching finally made sense to two of our 4th graders, the Minor twins, Kelsey and Madalyn, because they had always known that their Great Grandfather, Raymond Weeks, started Veterans Day. Mr. Weeks was a retired U.S. Navy serviceman and, according to President Reagan, the “driving force” behind the initiative that would see Armistice Day transform into the federally recognized Veterans Day. In 1945, after returning home from WW II, Mr. Weeks realized Armistice Day should change to honor veterans of all U.S. fought wars and expand. Mr. Weeks’ patriotism and perseverance led him to present his concept to General Eisenhower in 1946.

Weeks launched the movement with the first national celebration of two days in Birmingham in 1947. General Eisenhower sent a telegram to Mr. Weeks on November 11 that year stating he hoped what Birmingham was doing would spread across America. Mr. Weeks petitioned President Eisenhower at the White House and, in 1954, legislation was signed to establish the federal holiday! President Reagan presented Mr. Weeks with the Presidential Citizens Medal on November 11, 1982; further recognizing Mr. Weeks for leading Veterans Day. This recognition was overlooked in 2003 when Congress recognized another state for founding Veterans Day without mention of Mr. Weeks. So, in 2012, Patriotism in Action led by Dr. David Dyson and retired Colonels Bob Barefield and Stretch Dunn committed to correct this history and establish Birmingham, Alabama and Weeks as founder of America’s Veterans Day. Senator Sessions joined the effort and prepared a new resolution, in cooperation with the delegation from the previously recognized state, and the U.S. Senate affirmed Raymond Weeks, Birmingham, and Alabama for starting the first and longest running Veterans Day celebration. Senator Sessions called Dr. Dyson with the good news during the week of Veterans Day 2012.

Dr. Dyson, project director and co-author of Patriotism in Action, visited Gwin Elementary on February 21 and addressed fourth grade students and teachers about the founding of America’s Veterans Day in Alabama. Special guests included Barbara Weeks Minor, daughter of Raymond Weeks, Kyle Minor, grandson of Raymond Weeks, Kelsey and Madalyn Minor, great-granddaughters of Raymond Weeks, and John Lyda, City Councilman from Hoover.

Dr. Dyson’s presentation included photos of General Eisenhower and Weeks, plus television footage of President Reagan pinning Raymond Weeks with the Presidential Citizens Medal at the White House in 1982. President Reagan proclaims, “We are here to honor an American patriot, Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Alabama...the 'driving force' establishing America’s Veterans Day.” Barbara Minor was at the White House for the presentation and shared her experience with the students. She even brought her father’s citizens medal to show to the students. In her reflections, Mrs. Minor relishes the memory of this prestigious moment and distinguishes it as one of the most notable occasions in her family’s life.

During Dr. Dyson’s media presentation, Gwin’s fourth graders took notes with the purpose of sharing what they learned with their parents and writing to someone outside the home telling them Veterans Day started in Alabama and why that is important using Patriotism in Action note cards donated by the Minor family. Dr. Dyson also presented each fourth grade teacher with a poster to use in class. The posters feature General Dwight Eisenhower and Raymond Weeks in 1946, Reagan and Weeks in 1982, and list Alabama character traits supported by this history: patriotism, courage, perseverance, loyalty and citizenship. The posters have been endorsed for use in schools and veteran organizations by Dr. Tommy Bice, state superintendent of education and Commissioner Marsh of Veterans Affairs. A draft of a new lesson plan for teachers has been posted online. The Weeks family has sponsored posters and books in ten schools, improving knowledge of this history from less than 10% to almost 100% in those schools, says Dr. Dyson. A key part of Patriotism in Action’s work is to get posters, books and lesson plans in schools and veteran organizations throughout the state so teachers, students and other citizens will know and use this inspiring history.

On May 22nd, Governor Robert Bentley signed a proclamation recognizing Raymond Weeks and Alabama as founder of Veterans Day, adding his support for this project as important for veterans affairs, education, and tourism. The Congressional Record published a message of support led by Congressman Spencer Bachus.

Should you find yourself in the quiet haven of Linn Park in the heart of downtown Birmingham, look for a granite marker in the corner between Boutwell Auditorium and City Hall. There you will find a memorial to Raymond Weeks dedicated in 1989 from “a grateful nation.” On the eve of Veterans Day, Weeks Family and visitors from other cities and states gather for the Patriotism in Action Tribute to Raymond Weeks, emceed by Dr. Dyson. This year, Mayor of Birmingham William Bell will also speak at the monument about Birmingham’s contributions to America’s freedoms through Veterans Day and Civil Rights as part of a new initiative, Freedom Week.

Gwin Elementary is excited about its connection to the Week’s family and their legacy and extends appreciation and gratitude to Dr. Dyson and the Minor family for visiting and sharing this knowledge of Patriotism in Action. Dr. Dyson and Colonel “Stretch” Dunn (USA Ret.) of Hoover are co-authors of the book, Patriotism in Action, which tells the history and character education related to founding Veterans Day in Birmingham and includes a patriotic guide. For more information about the book, poster, or project, visit www.PatriotismInAction.us or write to David@LifeLeaders.us. Help spread the word. Join our students and put your patriotism into action.

-Written by Felicia Brewer, PTO publicity chair, Tonya Sparks-Barnes, 4th grade teacher at Gwin and contributor Dr. David Dyson.

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