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Germany mulls instituting Veterans' Day

Germany's defense minister has called for an annual Veterans' Day, honoring former German soldiers, both living and dead. A common holiday in many parts of the world received a mixed response in Germany.

Bundeswehr soliders at a ceremony

The Bundeswehr has been involved in operation abroad since the early 1990s

Several countries around the world host "remembrance days" to commemorate and honor the contribution and services of their servicemen and women. Now, Germany may be set to follow if Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere gets his way.

De Maiziere said the proposal was timely, given Germany's increasing military presence around the world. Germany's first foreign military mission since World War II took place in 1991 during the second Gulf War. Since then, about 300,000 soldiers have served abroad in operations ranging from Kosovo, the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan. Over 100 troops have been killed.

"Against the backdrop of our operations and the questions they pose to our society, it is time to speak objectively and openly about our veterans’ policy," de Maiziere wrote in a proposal. "This is new, but only for Germany."

A tricky search for a date

De Maiziere's plans have received a mixed response. They've been criticized by some opposition politicians who are uneasy about the army being honored given Germany's bloody past in the 20th century. But they've been welcomed by the Bundeswehr, the German army, as well as by members of the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) as "appropriate" and "correct."

ARCHIV: ISAF-Soldaten (International Security Assistance Force) der Bundeswehr in Baglan (Afghanistan) im Observation Post North (OP-North) mit einem Transporthubschrauber CH53 von Sikorsky zur Landung an (Foto vom 03.10.11). Am Dienstag (24.01.12) stellt der Wehrbeauftragte des Bundestags, Hellmut Koenigshaus (FDP), in Berlin den Jahresbericht 2011 vor. (zu dapd-Text) Foto: Sascha Schuermann/dapd

Many soliders returning from Afghanistan call themselves veterans

However, the search for a suitable date for the commemoration day has proved tricky. De Maiziere originally suggested using the Volkstrauertag in November, a national day of mourning for soldiers and civilians killed in war and victims of violent oppression around the world.

The second suggestion is April 2 because on that day in 2010, three German soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. The German parliament's defense commissioner, Hellmut Königshaus supports the date. He's said he considers an annual Veterans' Day as "overdue."

Now, de Maiziere has suggested holding Veterans' Day on May 22 - the anniversary of the Bundeswehr's founding in 1956.

Who's a veteran?

One question has consistently popped up in the debate over Veterans' Day in Germany - who actually qualifies as a veteran? Only those soldiers who served abroad or all long-serving, older soldiers too?

Germany has not had a Veterans'Day since the Third Reich and does not, unlike France or the United States, remember its 7 million servicemen who died in the two world wars. And, there were no "new" veterans during the Cold War because the Bundeswehr did not take part in combat operations.

Watch video 01:26

Germany struggles to honor its soldiers

"Veteran" is a word being increasingly used in recent years in Germany, mainly by troops returning from Afghanistan. Many have seen fighting and suffered physical and psychological injuries. The soldiers refer to their deployment as war and call themselves veterans. In August 2010, troops set up a Bundeswehr representative association in Berlin.

Ulrich Kirsch, head of the association, said there was discussion among the Bundeswehr's 200,000 soldiers about the meaning of a veteran.

De Maiziere has admitted that the definition of the term remains vague in Germany. But it's important, he said, to avoid a split in the troops in soldiers "with and without veteran status."

Author: Nina Werkhäuser/ sp
Editor: Sean Sinico

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