Nov. 11 is Veterans Day and honors the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Services. It is a federal holiday. Originally, Nov. 11 was called Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I. It is celebrated in Canada as Remembrance Day for those who died in WWI.
Veterans Day celebrations in the United States have traditionally included parades and speeches. Special services are conducted throughout the country, including at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as Armistice Day to honor those who had died in WWI and to remind Americans of the tragedies of war. A law adopted in 1938 made the day a federal holiday. In 1954, Congress changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all Americans who have served their country.
On Veterans Day, we also remember that the basic rights and freedoms that we enjoy have been secured through the service and sacrifice of our fellow citizens.
For some, this heritage of service and sacrifice is immediately evident because it is your parents or other family members who today, serve our country. It is thousands of young men and women who have chosen the path of leadership in protecting our liberties and freedoms.
On Veterans Day, stand proud in honor of all who serve or support those who serve. You may not be in the front lines or flying in harm’s way over hostile territory, but by making the most of your opportunities and accepting the challenge of service, you stand with a long line of others who understand the responsibilities of citizenship.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, we have been at war with international terrorism. The cost in lives lost in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, Iraq and Afghanistan has been high. The cost in terms of our economy also has been staggering. Likewise, the cost in terms of the expenditure of our military resources and increased needs for homeland security will impact us for a long time to come.
But we also have gained something that is more valuable than all of the costs incurred. We have gained a renewed sense of patriotism. We have gained a stronger sense of national purpose. We have gained a better understanding of what sacrifice and service are all about.
When I was a young boy, patriotism was still the accepted norm. We saluted the flag in school, marched as a scout or some other organizational member in the Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July parades. When “The Star Spangled Banner” was played at the beginning of some event or ballgame, we stood up, took off our caps, and honored America, even if it was on television.
In school, we learned about Patrick Henry, Nathan Hale, the Jackson boys, Andy and Stonewall. We read Shakespeare and learned that honor was important. “If you can’t come home with your shield, come home on it.”
In the 1960s, youth, innocence, and patriotism, for many, were casualties of the Vietnam War. However, having grown up not too far from the United States Military Academy at West Point, I had occasion to read the words of General MacArthur, who proclaimed “Duty, Honor, and Country.” Whether drafted or, in my case, an ROTC volunteer, the obligation of service was part of the honor code that was founded and taught when I went to the College of William and Mary.
I served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and though people continue to debate that war and our involvement in it, I have never regretted the opportunity to share in meeting my responsibilities as an American citizen. I learned that all that we have, even our freedom to protest and disagree, have been made possible by sacrifice and service. The price of freedom may be high, but it is an investment that has returned much for all Americans.
For the past 50 years, Veterans Day has been a personal day for me, for I remember those of my relatives who served in World War II and or Korea. (If you have grandparents, ask them about their experiences. Read Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation.”) I remember those with whom I served with in the Army and in Vietnam.
Like a “Tale of Two Cities” it “was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” As a veteran I have been cursed and I have been cheered. I have seen our military fall out of and back into grace. Though we have served our nation and others, we also have served each other.
Though our memories may dim and the names of that crazy kid from Delaware with his grenade launcher, that grizzled Green Beret in Dak To, the no-name FAC in the O2B who was there when needed, or the nurse who was actually at China Beach may be increasingly more difficult to remember, veterans will always remember that we kept the faith with “our band of brothers.”
Today, as we confront new threats to America and our democratic way of life, Veterans Day has taken on a new meaning. In a war with no rules or boundaries, we are all, in some small or large way, veterans. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and the Marines are being joined in the ranks by Americans who serve as police or fire fighters. Government workers, the civilian work force and family members are sharing the costs of liberty. Truly, on this Veterans Day, “United We Stand.”
Remember on Veteran’s Day, and every day, those who answered the call. To all veterans, thank you. The friendships, hardships, and memories that are ours will always be a part of us. The comrades we lost, the opportunities we missed, and the sacrifices we made are all part of our own private “walls.” For us, “Duty, Honor and Country” is a proud heritage.
Finally, take the time on Veterans Day to tell all family and friends that serve or have served our country that “You are my hero.”
Dr. Rodger Bates
Professor of Sociology and Homeland Security
Clayton State University