Most Americans loosely associate Veterans Day with a long weekend, parades and patriotism. To those of us who wear the uniform or know those who do, Veterans Day has a completely different meaning. Veterans Day is a chance where we, as a nation, simultaneously pause to acknowledge the sacrifices of the men and women who served or are currently serving in the armed forces of the United States. It is a day to remember the true price of freedom and democracy and all that it takes to preserve them.
Originally, the commemoration was held every November 11 and was known as Armistice Day, to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of WWI and Germany. That war was costly, bitter and due to the nature of conflict, very personal. The United States alone lost 116,000 at sea, in the trenches and in the skies over Europe. Finally, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns went silent. An armistice was declared and the "war to end all wars" had ended.
It was not until 1954 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day. The scope of this observance has changed from a day set aside to remember those passed from one war, to a day that American Veterans from all wars, as well as those who served in times of peace, were honored. This year is the 99th year that we, as a nation, demonstrate our appreciation and respect for the Veterans who served and continue to serve our country.
While there are some who may not agree with the conflicts in which our nation has been involved, a Veteran’s service should always be honored. All of us are indebted to their commitment and service. Their service spans every decade, every year and every day of our country's existence. Throughout the history of our country, Veterans’ service secured the liberty that our founding fathers sought to establish here in the new world. Whenever and wherever they were called, whether in times of peace or war, America's Veterans always answered.
To have a better understanding of Veterans Day, it helps to answer the question, “what is a Veteran?” Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines a Veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.” No matter the branch of service, job or number of years served, active duty, discharged, retired or reserve, a Veteran is an individual who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check to the government for an amount of “up to and including his or her life.” This selfless act unites all Veterans.
Veterans Day is more than just a commemoration and celebration of America’s warriors. Fully appreciating Veterans Day begins when we fully appreciate what makes our country unique. Despite the challenges in today’s world, the United States continues to be a positive symbol of higher ideals to the world. The men and women who have given of themselves to defend the principles on which our country was built have upheld that image. Just as this nation has depended upon its Veterans to fulfill that hope and secure that promise, we shall surely depend upon them as we move forward into the challenging future that awaits us.
Today, we say thank you to those who served and those who continue to serve. We sleep peacefully at night knowing that our Veterans stood the watch and prevailed and they are followed by those who will continue to stand the watch with as much honor as their predecessors. They know of the risks that come with wearing the uniform, but they accept them so that others may not.
There is a special group of Veterans that deserve recognition, not only on Veterans Day, but every day. Veterans who fought for America and are still listed as Missing-in-Action should always be remembered. We have an obligation to account for these missing comrades in arms. We owe this to their families, and we owe it to future generations of Americans, but most of all, we owe it to our missing comrades.
As George Washington stated, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."
Veterans served when they were called and came home to continue serving in peacetime. In war, they did their best to defend liberty. In peace, they sought to build a better world. Their quest was made even more meaningful by what they had experienced in the heat of battle. Freedom, for those who have fought for it, is a word with an extremely special meaning. It is this love and respect for freedom, not just for the United States, but for all, that is at the heart and soul of Americans. It is what makes us unique among the people of the world.
President John F. Kennedy once said that "a nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers." We should all endeavor to pass on to those after us the significance of November 11th and the spirit and sacrifice of Veterans that guided and upheld our country for more than two hundred years.
Not just this day, but every day, I offer sincerest thanks to all Veterans and their families. A special word of thanks to the families for the support they have provided during the good times as well as the bad. They too, have unquestionably served well.
All my best,
Captain David James,
Commanding Officer, NAS Lemoore