Honor, Respect, Remember America’s Veterans
Ninety-two years ago tomorrow, on Nov. 11, 1918, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent. “The War to End Wars” that began in August 1914 was over.
“The War to End Wars” ended nothing. World War I, as it later came to be known, was not the first conflict of the 20th century, and was far from being the last. Twenty years after the armistice of 1918 ended the 1914-1918 war, Germany invaded Poland and the second global conflict of the century began. Five years after World War II ended, Chinese Communist forces invaded Korea. Formal conflict in the Korean War, first known as the Korean Conflict or the Police Action, ended in 1953, but enemy forces continue staring at each other, guns at the ready, across the 38th Parallel to this day. Another “advisory” situation escalated into Vietnam. The end of the 20th century saw unresolved conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and in numerous other “hot spots” around the world still very much underway. Most of them, sadly, continued or flared up again and are still going on in the first decade of the millennium that began Jan. 1, 2001. Veterans of the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan continue to swell the ranks of their compatriots from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
From the War of Independence that saw the birth of this nation to the present conflicts around the globe, men and women have entered honorable service in our country’s military. Too many times, however, the rest of us, in our eagerness to put the memories of the conflict, any conflict, behind us, tend to forget that our peace, freedom and security have been won at a heavy price. Many of those who paid that price now languish in veterans’ hospitals and other facilities. Even those of our soldiers who came home from the battles outwardly unscathed have been affected by their experiences.
Those experiences too often go unacknowledged. Soldiers from all branches of the armed forces who have sustained permanent injury from whatever war they fought in too often languish forgotten in veterans’ hospitals. Those who can still march in Veterans’ Day parades observe the crowds watching from the sidelines dwindle steadily, year by year. On more than one occasion it has seemed apparent that those marching are observed only by each other. To paraphrase a slogan from the Vietnam Conflict, suppose they gave a Veterans’ Day Parade and nobody came? The only answer is: we would have demonstrated shameful neglect, amnesia and ignorance.
We owe our veterans an enormous debt, but we tend to be slow on repayment. The moment of silence commemorating the cease-fire that ended World War I, observed at 11 a.m., too often has shrunk to at most 30 seconds. The monuments and cenotaphs where every year fewer people place wreaths and hold services are inscribed with “Lest We Forget”, but all too often, we have.
We acknowledge that our lives are as full as they can possibly be, but surely, even on a busy working day, we can spare a few moments to pause and reflect on all we owe our veterans, whatever their age and rank and however they earned their status. If there’s a parade heading down a street close to you, take a few minutes to pause and put your hand over your heart when the flag goes by. Wave and smile at the veterans marching and tell them “Thank you”. What’s more (and not much more, really) when the clock moves on to 11:01 a.m., do not let enthusiasm and appreciation wane. Visit a veterans’ hospital. Listen to the stories. The sacrifices of all veterans bought us the right and the privilege of learning from these living monuments to all that is great and good in America today.