Veterans Day began its life as “Armistice Day” in recognition of the end of World War I- “the war to end all wars”. Unfortunately, “the war to end all wars” didn’t live up to its promise. World War II and the Korean Conflict conclusively demonstrated that, prompting Congress to rename “Armistice Day” as “Veterans Day” in 1938. Along with the name change came a refocusing to make the day a tribute to all veterans and honor the sacrifices made by soldiers who died so that Americans could live free.
Unfortunately, with the passage of time, the number of combat veterans has continued to increase. While not of the scope of World War I, World War II, the Korean “conflict” and the Vietnam War, seemingly countless military entanglements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and a host of other countries have continued to claim the lives of American veterans. Many of the soldiers who have died never set foot on a battlefield.
For the soldiers who survived their tours of duty, and the family members of those who did not, Veterans Day is most certainly painful, as it brings memories of friends, comrades and relatives into focus. Those memories are especially discomforting to combat veterans who experienced the horror of war first hand.
And when those veterans speak, their words capture the depth of the sacrifices made not only by those who died, but those who survived. They capture the fear and uncertainty experienced by an 18 year-old who is given a brief period of training, handed a weapon and shipped off to a foreign country, thousands of miles from home.
They capture the terror of standing next to a fellow soldier and watching him fall and die.
They capture the abuse suffered by returning Vietnam veterans who were cursed, spit on or physically attacked.
They capture the vivid memories of the death and destruction that is war.
And they capture the memory that every person who died in defense of our nation was someone’s son, daughter, wife, husband, mother, father, sister or brother.
All too often, our veterans, and the sacrifices they make are taken for granted. But I think there’s no better way to realize their contribution to our freedom and security than to consider a story about a U.S. Navy Admiral was attending a conference where a French admiral complained,
“Why is it that we always have to speak English in these conferences?”
The American Admiral replied, “Maybe it’s because we arranged it so you wouldn’t have to speak German.”
Without our veterans, countries the world over might well have lost their independence, and one of those countries might have been the United States of America. That’s something to think about not only on Veterans Day, but every day.
Featured photo via Snellville City councilman, Dave Emanuel. Used by permission from his personal blog.