There’s something special about Veterans Day. Always has been. Our nation was born a rebel and rebels wither quickly unless they can back-up their tough talk with even tougher action. As a kid at Hamilton Elementary School in South Georgia in the early 1960s, I used to wonder why we as a nation celebrated our independence on July 4, 1776 when the deal was not actually done until Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown October 19, 1781. My young mind reasoned that simply declaring independence was not good enough … the big talk had to be backed up with action.
Now, I understand better what freedom really means, so July 4 makes the most sense … once freedom was declared, the early American colonies were determined that there would be no going back. “Live free or die!” And we’ve enjoyed the fruits of their courage ever since.
That brings us again to November 11 … Veterans Day. This event traces its origins back to World War I … “The Great War” … which June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. But the actual fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. This, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
In 1938, Congress declared 11 November to be a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day. Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I. But by 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history and following aggression in Korea, Congress amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” And that’s where we stand today.
This year’s event will be even more special to me than usual … I’ll be returning to the aforementioned Hamilton Elementary School as the keynote speaker for their annual Veterans Day celebration. Of all the venues I’ve been honored to speak and oversee over the years, this one will rank right up with the best as it was there that I first began to understand just how special freedom really is and what the cost of achieving and maintaining it requires.
As you know, since this year is 2011, Veterans Day will fall on 11-11-11. For some reason beyond my simple mind’s comprehension level, some groups claim all those “elevens” portend dire events. (Wasn’t November 11, 1911 also 11-11-11? And 1811? And 1711? Ah, who cares?)
Anyway, it’s become standard that every day finds some “secret clue” that means the world will be ending. My feeling is that if it’s true this year, what better place to be than with a bunch of veterans gathered on a stage sharing their views on freedom to our youth? I can think of much worse ways to go!
But this year, 11-11-11 is significant because it’s also the day for some much-anticipated video game, SkyRim, to be released. This critical information was confirmed by 20-year old son #2, Nick. In one American school district, a parent sent this letter to his son’s school administration explaining that his son would be absent on 11-11-11. The teacher believed the letter to be a reference to some type of Veterans Day ceremony. Alas, it referred to X-Box 360 rather than Normandy, Fallujah or Bastogne.
But for me, it’ll all center on the brave men and women who stood the line in the dark, far from home, amidst great danger and hardship, willing to extend that line of freedom begun on July 4, 1776 and extending it just a bit farther. No matter what your lot in life, your political view or your religious beliefs, your past, present and future are steeped in the comfort of freedom thanks to those who valued liberty more than life and took a stand to prove it. We call them veterans.
While we must NEVER forget the sacrifices of veterans from yesteryear, let’s also remember that we as a nation are still engaged in a war waged against the enemies of our way of life that began on 9/11. Nearly 5,000 brave Americans have paid it all in Iraq and Afghanistan since that fateful day. And in our modern society, it’s well known that less than 1% of our population ever served or ever will serve in the US Armed Forces. There are still veterans … heroes … living among us whom we must never let pass without saying a word of thanks.
Remember the images and reports of US Special Operations soldiers, during the early stages of the war in Afghanistan (Operation ENDURING FREEDOM) provided by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld going into battle in those rugged mountain passes on horseback? I understand that during the 2011 NYC Veterans Day Parade on November 11, a new monument to these men — and to all Americans in uniform — will make its way down New York City’s famed Fifth Avenue on the way to its final home, a stone’s throw from Ground Zero.
Military men and women, along with New York City firefighters, policemen, emergency responders and other marchers (50,000 in all) will escort the monument on its televised journey. The spectacle will feature members of the three original Special Operations teams, some on horseback, walking alongside surviving spouses of fallen heroes.
Oh yes, I am so proud to be an American and so thankful to the veterans who still make our heritage viable and pertinent! To all the men and women who ever served in the armed forces of this great nation, this is YOUR day! You are my heroes! Thank you!