Veterans Day, A Look Back, A Look Ahead
World War I—the war to end all wars– ended in 1918. The armistice that brought about the cessation of combat officially went into effect at 11:00 am on the 11th day of the 11th month. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th to be “Armistice Day” stating,
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice…”
Unfortunately, “the war to end all wars” was unsuccessful. By the 1940s, the United States of America was immersed in World War II which was followed by Korean “conflict.” By the 1950s, it seemed more appropriate for “Armistice Day” to recognize the sacrifices made by all military veterans, not just those who fought in World War I.
To that end, on October 8, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower proclaimed November 11th as “Veterans Day.”
All gave some, some gave all
Since then, our country has sent its soldiers to Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and a host of other countries. In some instances, our soldiers were sent to fight, in others they served as advisers or trainers. But in all cases, they were in harm’s way. Many who were supposedly engaged in routine support missions have never returned.
The parades and celebrations
As with most holidays, Veterans Day is marked with parades, ceremonies and a variety of celebratory events. The celebrations and remembrances are an excellent way to recognize the sacrifices of the men and women who have defended our country and our freedoms, yet they neither capture nor express what it means to be a was veteran.
They can’t. Neither a parade nor a ceremony can capture the fear and uncertainty experienced by an 18-year-old who is given a brief period of training and a weapon prior to being shipped off to a hostility-ridden foreign country, thousands of miles from home.
Neither a parade nor a ceremony can capture the terror of standing next to a fellow soldier and watching him fall to his death from the battle.
And neither a parade nor a ceremony can compensate for the abuse suffered by returning Vietnam veterans who were cursed, spit on or physically attacked.
Certainly, not all veterans have seen combat, yet they have all made sacrifices to protect our country, our freedom and our way of life. Were it not for our veterans, I would not have the freedom to write this column, nor would you have the freedom to read it. And although neither reading nor writing will erase the pain our veterans have experienced, a simple “thank you” can go a long way toward easing it.
That “thank you” can and should be expressed through words and a handshake, and it can also take the form of public recognition of service and sacrifice. That point is driven home by the response of veterans who see their name displayed on memorial sites, such as the one in Snellville, GA.
The scene is duplicated in other cities and towns across the country. Some are moved to tears, others simply stare in disbelief, but all are deeply appreciative of the recognition of their service and sacrifice.
We all owe a debt to our veterans that we can never repay. But in the future, as we have done in the past, we can honor them and care for them. And be thankful for the opportunity to do so.