Veterans Day commands attention

Today we honor the veterans who honored us with their service.

November 11, 2012 

If you ever wore the uniform of the armed forces, thank you. This is a day to honor you for what you gave to your country, in peace and at war, whether you never left the borders of the United States or spent years overseas. Whether you were a buck private or a four-star general.

“I did my part,” the World War vets used to say, and so many times, it was all they would say. It was as if something was understood among them: Service is not deserving of bows, for it is duty, pure and simple. In the recent obituaries of Sen. George McGovern, for example, it was oft noted that the World War II bomber pilot, recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, never talked much about his service, not even when he ran for president in 1972. He was hardly alone among veterans in that stoic attitude.

But the truth is, military service is something special, and it is deserving of thanks. In fact, once a year really doesn’t seem like enough.

Consider the diminishing ranks of World War II veterans, fewer of them still with us on every Veterans Day. When the United States entered that war they came from apartments in New York and cotton fields in Arkansas, from wealth and from poverty, intent on doing their duty, and with very few complaints indeed.

They came home, some of them, with wounds that would shape the rest of their lives, with nightmares, but also with friendships for a lifetime forged in battle. Young people came home as grown-ups. They came home with a mission accomplished, and they got on with life. They defended a country, and then they built a country. They made it all the better.

So many wars, so many stories, so many hurt, so many killed. Millions and millions of Americans have made the sacrifice. Those who have not served must surely appreciate a thousand times over those who have and those who do, from the World Wars to Korea to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, and many other places where Americans in uniform have gone into harm’s way.

They have represented, in that uniform, the best and the bravest and the honor and the duty that represents the best of this country. Most of those would say they were duty-bound and honored to serve.

Today it is the nation’s duty to show them we are profoundly grateful.

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