World War I ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. That is when the armistice with Germany took hold. It was one year later, on Armistice Day, that President Woodrow Wilson issued a famous statement about veterans and that war and peace. Part of his statement read: “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 in the councils of nations.”
Veterans Day, which we mark today, is the result, as so many holidays are, of a sort of evolution in the thinking of national leaders. Armistice Day was viewed as a memorial for World War I, but a more general National Veterans Day was advocated by World War II veteran Raymond Weeks of Alabama, and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower endorsed it.
Different communities will mark this day in a variety of ways. Some groups will place flags on grave sites of veterans, though this day is not Memorial Day to honor the fallen but rather a recognition of all who serve or have served. There even will be parades and some medal ceremonies.
America always has honored and appreciated veterans, though some Vietnam-era vets felt their service was criticized when in fact they were serving their country just as other veterans had. They now are getting the recognition and honor they deserve and always have deserved. In fact, more Americans now make it a point to thank those in uniform when they see them in restaurants or out with their families and they are in uniform.
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Military service requires a variety of sacrifices – distance from family, interruption of careers and of course, putting oneself in harm’s way, in real and present danger.
For that service and those sacrifices the men and women who serve and have served in the armed forces deserve our enduring thanks and gratitude.
Today, some World War II veterans, now diminished in number by age, will be gathering at some Veterans Day ceremonies, and Americans everywhere must make it a point to recognize and thank them. Theirs was indeed the Greatest Generation, marked by the service of so many who literally left their homes, left the farm fields and the factories, to go to strange lands and save their country and the freedom of those within it for the generations to come.
But we must remember as well, and salute, literally and figuratively, the ones who followed, the ones who fought in Korea and Vietnam and in the Persian Gulf and in the war on terror thousands of miles from home. And even those who did not see combat served with honor and distinction.
Sacrifice for country carries with it the same distinction today it has had since the definitive confrontation on that huge field in Yorktown, when Gen. George Washington commanded a victory over British forces and in effect took the last step toward the formal creation of this Republic. The flag that has flown since has had several derivations, but the courage behind it and what it represents have been unchanged.