AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
“Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed — else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. General and President
On Monday, Nov. 11, people across the United States will pause to honor the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who have honorably served in this country’s armed forces.
Today, we know the date as Veterans Day. But that hasn’t always been the case. In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River in the city of Washington, D.C. became the focal point of reverence for America’s veterans.
Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor (in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe). These memorial gestures all took place on Nov. 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). The day became known as “Armistice Day.”
Armistice Day officially received its name in America in 1926 through a Congressional resolution. It became a national holiday 12 years later by similar Congressional action. If the idealistic hope had been realized that World War I was “the War to end all Wars,” Nov. 11 might still be called Armistice Day. But only a few years after the holiday was proclaimed, war broke out in Europe. 16,500,000 Americans took part; 407,000 of them died in service and more than 292,000 in battle.
Realizing that peace was equally preserved by veterans of World War II and Korea, Congress was asked to make this day an occasion to honor those who have served America in all wars. In 1954 President Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming Nov. 11 as Veterans Day.
Since the Korean Conflict, American servicemen and women have continued to answer the call for freedom as they have left their families to help bring freedom in Vietnam, Granada, across Europe, Africa and today, in the Middle East.
While history has recorded the epic battles of the past wars, by and large servicemen and servicewomen choose not to talk about the horrors of battle and the time that they spent in service of this country’s freedom. After their time of military service to the country was over, they returned to their civilian life and they became doctors, lawyers, bankers and the person just down the street. They became our teachers, our neighbors and our friends.
In his 1984 address in Normandy, President Ronald Reagan, as he addressed the men who carried out the D-Day invasion, said: “They were what General Marshall called our secret weapon, the best damn kids in the world. Where do we find them, where do we find such men? The answer came almost as quickly as I’d asked the question. Where we’ve always found them in this country. On the farms, in the shops, the stores and the offices. They just are the products of the freest society the world has ever known.”
And that is what makes those unselfish individuals who were willing to wear a U.S. military uniform so special. Our military veterans responded to a call of service that most Americans are never asked to perform. They were called to defend this great county and to protect the freedoms that so many of us take for granted on a daily basis.
For their service to America, on this Veterans Day say “thank you” to a veteran. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.