(Editor’s note: This is a commentary I have posted previously on Veterans Day.)
One-hundred and one years ago, at the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month, the fighting stopped along the battle lines in Europe, bringing an end to the hostilities of World War I. The following year, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th as the first Armistice Day marking the end of The Great War, saying the day should be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.”
In 1954, Congress changed the name from “Armistice” to “Veterans,” with the purpose of honoring all veterans of all wars. Congress made a huge mistake when it passed the Uniform Holiday Bill in 1968, moving four national holidays (Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day) to Monday so federal employees could have a three day weekend.
The shift ignored the historic significance of November 11th, and in 1975 Congress passed another law moving the commemoration back to the original date, regardless of where it falls on the calendar.
Veterans Day will be marked here and across the country with solemn and respectful ceremonies, none more moving than the service at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. In Veterans Day remarks in 1989, General Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reminded us of the level of commitment that has been necessary to keep our country secure.
“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,” Powell said. “Through untold courage and sacrifice, America’s veterans have secured the liberty which the founding fathers sought to establish here in the new world.”
We are busy people, consumed by the moment-to-moment events of our lives, tugged in myriad directions and bombarded with massive amounts of information. The fact that we are secure enough to be preoccupied speaks to the magnitude of the success and sacrifice of our veterans in preserving our freedom.
Our debt to them cannot be fully repaid; rather it is an ongoing responsibility of citizenship to demonstrate our gratitude. General Powell in his speech referenced a quote by President John Kennedy that remains relevant today. “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”
Today we honor and remember our veterans. Thank you for your service and sacrifice, and for keeping us safe.