Massachusetts brothers lobby for pause to honor veterans
The concept is simple and moving: a national moment of silence when Americans from Maine to Hawaii, once a year, come to a standstill for two minutes to honor the country’s veterans.
Four years after seizing on the idea, two brothers from Weston are closer to seeing that vision of unity become reality. The proposal passed the US House of Representatives last week as part of the annual defense bill, and the Senate has shown bipartisan support.
Nothing is certain in Washington politics, of course, but Michael and Daniel Bendetson believe they might be on the cusp of something important.
“This is to try to bring the country together a little bit. We feel that there are a lot of issues out there that tend to divide us,” said Michael Bendetson, 24, a Tufts University graduate studying law at the University of Michigan. “There’s obviously a good amount of support across the country for our veterans, but there’s not a mechanism out there to channel that.”
Under the House bill, the moment would be observed at 2:11 p.m. on Veterans Day on the East Coast and simultaneously across the country: 1:11 p.m. in Chicago, 11:11 a.m. in Los Angeles, and 9:11 a.m. in Honolulu.
“People would voluntarily stop what they were doing to come together,” Michael Bendetson said.
The timing of the moment reflects the historic importance of the number 11 in the signing of the World War I armistice, which took effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.
The brothers modeled their idea after Yom Hazikaron, the national day of remembrance in Israel, where the country stops for two minutes to honor fallen service members and victims of terrorism.
The Bendetsons were standing with their father on a Tel Aviv sidewalk in 2010 when the sirens sounded before 120 seconds of solemn reflection. “It was an extraordinarily powerful moment to see business, traffic, everyone come to a halt,” said Daniel Bendetson, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Michigan.
They turned to their father, Dr. Peter Bendetson, and asked whether such a ritual could be replicated at home. With his encouragement, and with the zeal of youth untainted by the paralyzing partisanship of Washington, they went to work.
Two Massachusetts lawmakers no longer in Congress — former representative Barney Frank and former senator Scott Brown — signed on as sponsors. Since then, the Bendetsons have returned to Washington over and over to press their case, aided by pro bono help from the lobbying firm Covington & Burling.
Some previous efforts stalled, but the moment of silence took a big step forward last week, when US Representative Stephen Lynch of South Boston helped attach the proposal to the mammoth annual defense spending bill.
Lynch garnered support from across the aisle when Representative Charles Boustany, a Louisiana Republican and a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, agreed to be a cosponsor. The amendment passed on a voice vote.
“I think it has a fair chance” of passing the Senate, Lynch said. “There are so few pieces of legislation that actually pass, that it’s important to get your measure attached to something that is absolutely necessary.”
The House defense bill fits that standard. Now, the bill must be reconciled with the military budget plan pending in the Senate, where a moment of silence has attracted backing from such diverse points of the political compass as Democrat Richard Durbin of Illinois and Republican John Cornyn of Texas.
If the Senate agrees to add the moment of silence to a final bill considered by both chambers, the measure could become law. Similar moments of remembrance are held in Canada and Great Britain, the Bendetsons said.
Brian Smith, a lawyer for Covington & Burling who worked in the White House under former president Bill Clinton, helped shepherd the Bendetsons through the byzantine corridors of Senate power.
“It’s been an amazing lesson about government and about civics,” Daniel Bendetson said, including one memorable exchange with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who answered his office phone during the government shutdown last October.
The Bendetsons delivered their pitch, Manchin listened, and the Democratic senator offered his support.
The Massachusetts delegation has played a key role in pushing the plan forward, Peter Bendetson said. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have joined the effort, as well as the entire House delegation from Massachusetts.
“If you think about most of our holidays — Memorial Day and Veterans Day included — they become more of a commercial enterprise,” Lynch said. “The moment of silence is more evocative of the true spirit of the day, to remember the sacrifice of our veterans.”
Lynch said the credit goes to the Bendetsons, who seized upon the potential of a powerful idea several years ago and have not given up.
Persistence — in phone calls, shoe leather, and face-to-face conversation — is making a difference.
“We’re happy to do our small part,” Peter Bendetson said, “to make this country a little better, a little more unified, and a little more respectful.”