A Connellsville legend fought to have Armistice Day recognized
Max C. Floto marched home from World War I in 1918 and into history many years later when he was named the Father of Armistice Day — now Veterans Day — in the American Legion's national magazine.
The Connellsville man and his friend Thom Scott Sr. of Dunbar came back from the trenches of France with one more mission: to make Armistice Day a national day of recognition for all World War I veterans.
Floto and Scott joined the newly formed American Legion Post 301 in Connellsville, named in honor of Milton L. Bishop, the first local soldier who died in the war. As 1918 faded into 1919, they got busy, determined that Armistice Day would become a national holiday.
The National American Legion adopted Floto's proposal at its first national convention, held in Minneapolis in 1919. All Legions across the United States agreed to annually observe Armistice Day on Nov. 11, the day the cease-fire was signed.
Floto and Scott had larger ideas in mind. They wanted the general population's patriotic support as well.
They lobbied the state to make Nov. 11 an official veterans holiday. On March 21, 1921, Pennsylvania's General Assembly did just that.
1938: U.S. proclamation
From there, it was on to Washington. Floto, Scott and a flock of supporters spent more than 15 years writing letters and talking to congressmen and senators. On May 13, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Nov. 11 as a national holiday.
Max Floto and Thom Scott Sr., in the words made famous by Gen. Douglas MacArthur upon retiring, simply “faded away” from their campaign, satisfied that they had accomplished what they had set out to do.
Floto, who lived on East Crawford Avenue for many years, remained active in veterans affairs in Connellsville, visiting the American Legion post and riding in parades. He faithfully attended the city's veterans commission meetings and banquets.
“Max was a short, quiet man, a very personable fellow,” said Ed Cope, a Connellsville native and longtime newspaper photographer.
Floto was a good friend of Cope's father, the late Donald Cope, and Allen Q. Jones, 89, of Dunbar Township, whose military titles have included a stint as Pennsylvania State VFW Commander. Both Donald Cope and Jones served in World War II, and Cope was a mainstay at local veterans events — especially Connellsville's Memorial Day ceremonies.
Floto: Courier employee
Ed Cope became acquainted with Floto at the Daily Courier. Floto worked for several years at the newspaper as a bookkeeper with Walter Driscoll. At that time, the Driscoll family owned The Daily Courier.
“Everyone looked out for Max, especially when he got older,” Cope said. “He and my father were great friends.”
Armistice Day did not become Veterans Day until 1954. A World War II soldier from Alabama — Raymond Weeks — headed a delegation that lobbied to have the holiday broadened to honor all veterans, not just those who served during World War I. President Dwight Eisenhower, who had served as Allied Supreme Commander during World War II, signed the proclamation that renamed the holiday.
When President Ronald Reagan presented Weeks with the Presidential Citizen Medal in 1982, Elizabeth Dole, wife of then-Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, proclaimed Weeks “the father of Veterans Day.”
Technically, that would be true, if such an honor was based upon a mere name change.
There might not have been a Veterans Day in November if there hadn't been an Armistice Day first — an event made possible by the dogged determination of Max C. Floto, assisted by Thom Scott Sr.
Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.