By Dr. Ferrill Miller
The JC Breakfast Optimist Club met at 6:50 AM on November 11 at the Hampton Inn Meeting Room. There were 10 members and 2 guests. The guest speaker was Phyllis Fitzgerald, who is a retired CWO3, former Junction City Commissioner and Mayor and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Society of the First Division at Fort Riley.
She began her presentation by sharing some history about Veteran’s Day, which was originally called Armistice Day, which was to be celebrated each year on November 11. The armistice was signed by the allies of WWI with Germany at Compiegne, France at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Armistice Day was proclaimed by President Wilson on November 11, 1919 in remembrance of the end of WWI and to honor military personnel who participated in “The Great War”. In 1953, Alvin J. King of Emporia, Kansas proposed that Armistice Day be changed to Veteran’s Day in order to honor all veterans of all wars. U.S. Representative Edward H. Reese, also from Emporia supported that change. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a law to change the name of Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day. In 1968, Eisenhower, signed a law which moved Veteran’s Day to the fourth Monday in October. This was not popular and in 1975 President Gerald R. Ford signed a law putting the special day back to November 11, which went into effect in 1978. In 2003, the Kansas Legislature declared Emporia, Kansas as the birthplace of Veteran’s Day.
Fitzgerald joined the military at the age of 17 with her parent’s permission. Phyllis was an enlisted soldier until she went to school to become a Warrant Officer with an M.O.S. (Military Occupational Specialist) as an All Source Intelligence Technician. She stated that “being an analyst taught her to look at all options when at work or in life”.
After having been assigned to Fort Riley in 1989, she and her husband were stationed in Germany. The Fitzgerald’s then had a one-year old and four-year old child. Phyllis’ work life changed from dealing with Cold War concerns about Russia to the middle east and specifically Iraq. Both she and her husband had more than one deployment to the middle east.
Mrs. Fitzgerald has retired from the military, but still enjoys working with soldiers and their families in her position at the Society of the First Division at Fort Riley. She stated that “the mission of the organization is to perpetuate the memory of the First Infantry Division and honor the service and sacrifice of it soldiers and units by maintaining the proud legacy of the First Infantry Division through historical and related activities within the civilian community and by maintaining close and continuous liaison and support within the First Infantry Division.”