They came, as they always do, from the cotton fields and the tobacco farms and the factories and put down their cutting blades and their hunting rifles and their accountants ledgers and their school books. They boarded big ships and, with some fear and anguish over the moms and dads and girlfriends they left behind, headed for Europe and, for most, parts unknown.
There, in places that would come to be known all too well to the Americans back home in the emerging great cities like New York and the hamlets of the Appalachians, some 117,000 Americans would die and 200,000 would be wounded in what came to be called the Great War. And for the rest of their lives, the Americans who came back would speak of Argonne Forest, Belleau Wood, Maghaba, Givenchy and so many other places theyd never have heard of when they stepped off the boats.
World War I was not the first or last war, and in the century since, millions of young men and women have put on their countrys uniforms and launched by sea or air for deadly adventures in the name of peace and freedom.
Today, Veterans Day, we honor all who have served, living and dead. We go to cemeteries and cheer at parades, and if we have had someone in the family serving in Afghanistan or Iraq or stationed in a peaceful place somewhere overseas, we might make a call or get one, to hear that voice, to talk with that son or daughter or father or mother whom we cherish and about whom we worry.
Most certainly, our veterans have earned it. Most Americans will not wear a uniform, but they will be forever indebted to those who do. Yes, forever.
The troops of World War I fought hard and well and suffered mightily, and it was the end of that war that spurred the eventual recognition of Veterans Day, signed, sealed and delivered thanks to the efforts of President Woodrow Wilson and later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man with some knowledge of war. Nov. 11 came about because in 1918, a cessation of hostilities, or armistice, was established in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
As holidays do, this one moved around but was finally restored to Nov. 11 by President Gerald Ford. It was a recognition that Veterans Day was important enough to be recognized on the actual day of the armistice rather than on a Monday to give federal employees a three-day weekend.
For most American families, there are in attics or basements or closets some trinkets or uniforms that belonged to someone in the line who served the country. Some such items never see the light of day and will pass from one generation to the next without much thought. But that should not be. Tangible remembrance is important, if not sacred. If that old uniform that great-grandpa wore in the Pacific Theater of World War II is still there, it should be displayed on this of all days, so that younger generations will understand at least some part of the sacrifices our ancestors have made for freedom and for us.
Yes, they should know of them. And all Americans should go to their nations capital and view the great monuments and walk along those walls of black granite at the Vietnam Memorial. That monument, with its 58,000 names, brings home the gravity of service and the ultimate sacrifice.
Today, let us visit the resting places of those who served and give rest and recognition to those who survive and serve us still.