Americans spending today safely at work or off work for the widely observed but too seldom honored Veterans Day holiday should at least pause in grateful recognition of almost 42 million men and women – 23 million of them living – who have served the nation in uniform since the Revolution.
Veterans Day dates from Nov. 11, 1918, and the armistice that marked cessation of hostilities in World War I. It was soon afterward described as the war to end all wars, an assessment that did not anticipate the rawest and most craven ambitions of despots rising to power in its aftermath.
From its beginnings as Armistice Day, today’s observance has been about the living and dead among our fellow citizens who served in uniform.
Since its first observance on Nov. 11, 1919 by presidential proclamation it has evolved to a national holiday, and after a brief time as a day attached to a weekend, it was restored to its historic, unique place on the calendar, regardless of the day of the week on which it falls.
The 42 million statistic widely used does not take into account the hundreds of thousands who have served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars – conflicts which have not been concluded and whose volunteer service numbers daily raise the full count of America’s veterans.
Almost every community has some kind of Veterans Day observance, and attending one at least occasionally is a living history lesson.
The ceremonies always are a mixture of respect, pride and sadness because time takes its toll on the familiar faces seen year after year over decades.
The veterans of World War II – famously described by journalist Tom Brokaw as “The Greatest Generation” – diminish in numbers most rapidly as they age into their 80s and beyond. That same respectful count continues for veterans of Korea, Vietnam and, now, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The lone American World War I veteran is 109-year-old Frank Buckles of West Virginia.
The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m. Some observances continue in that spirit.
Buckles, who is still active, again Wednesday urged Congress to fund and build a Washington memorial to the five million Americans who served in World War I, an appropriate proposal.
We join in tribute to all the millions nationwide for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common causes and freedoms we share.
NEMS Daily Journal