“The nation owes a great debt to its veterans, whose service to the nation spans every decade, every year, every day of our country’s existence. Through untold courage and sacrifice, America’s veterans have secured the liberty which the founding fathers sought to establish here in the new world. Whenever and wherever the nation has called — in times of darkness and danger as well as in times of peace and prosperity — America’s veterans have been there. Veterans have proudly carried the torch of liberty for all to see.”
U.S. Army General Colin Powell, later to be secretary of state, spoke those words Nov. 11, 1989, at the annual commemoration of Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery.
Veterans Day grew out of the armistice that went into effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, signaling an end to fighting in the Great War — the war to end all wars. The Treaty of Versailles was signed the following June, officially ending a war that claimed millions of civilian and military lives. In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson called for the commemoration of the cease-fire with a new holiday: Armistice Day.
“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 the nations,” Wilson said.
Yet, the war to end all wars got a sequel. Then came Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the war on terrorism. We have so many men and women to thank for putting on a uniform and serving our country in such conflicts.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower certainly recognized the importance of our veterans, himself a general of the U.S. Army and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II. As president, he established Nov. 11 as Veterans Day. “On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain,” Eisenhower stated in his 1954 Veterans Day proclamation.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the 1968 Uniform Holiday Act created some confusion as to when Veterans Day would be celebrated. The law was aimed at institutionalizing four national holidays on Mondays — George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day — ensuring three-day weekends for federal employees, the VA Public Affairs website states. Hearing outcry over the change in Veterans Day, President Gerald Ford returned it to its originally prescribed date.“Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good,” the VA states.
Take time to think about the service these men and women performed for our country. Think about how they put their lives on the line for something greater. Think about the sacrifices they made. And think about those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Let us all take a moment and offer the thanks of a grateful nation to our veterans, to whom we owe so much.