Hon­or­ing vet­er­ans on Vet­er­ans Day

The na­tion owes en­dur­ing debt to those who fight to pro­tect free­dom here and abroad

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Scott S. Pow­ell Scott Pow­ell is se­nior fel­low at Dis­cov­ery In­sti­tute in Seat­tle. His father, a World War II vet­eran, is 95 years old.

Vet­eran’s Day had its ori­gin at the end of World War I in 1918, a con­flict so hor­ren­dous that it was dubbed “the Great War” or “the war to end all wars,” with the United States play­ing the de­ci­sive role in the Al­lied pow­ers fi­nal vic­tory. It was first known as Armistice Day, cel­e­brated on Nov. 11 be­cause that was the day agreed upon by the Al­lied na­tions and Ger­many to be­gin a to­tal ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties. It went into ef­fect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, af­ter some 20 mil­lion peo­ple from both sides had given their lives in the war ef­fort.

The Treaty of Ver­sailles was signed some seven months later on June 28, 1919, mark­ing the of­fi­cial end of World War I. How­ever, the armistice date of Nov. 11, 1918, re­mained in the pub­lic mind as the date that marked the end of the Great War.

On Nov. 11, 1920, uniden­ti­fied sol­diers were laid to rest at West­min­ster Abbey in Lon­don and at the Arc de Tri­om­phe in Paris. On Novem­ber 11 the fol­low­ing year an un­known Amer­i­can sol­dier killed in the war was buried at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery.

There­after for many years, Armistice Day was rec­og­nized widely with some 27 state leg­is­la­tures mak­ing Novem­ber 11 a le­gal hol­i­day. Fi­nally on May 13, 1938, the U.S. Congress passed an act to es­tab­lish Armistice Day as a le­gal fed­eral hol­i­day — “a day to be ded­i­cated to the cause of world peace.” Iron­i­cally, two months prior, a re-armed Ger­many un­der Hitler had al­ready an­nexed all of Aus­tria and had sub­mit­ted a war plan to take over Cze­choslo­vakia. So the hol­i­day ded­i­cated to honor World War I vet­er­ans be­came of­fi­cial at the very time World War II was un­fold­ing.

As it turned out, World War II was al­most four times more costly for the United States with 405,400 lives lost, than World War I, in which 116,516 Amer­i­cans died. Need­less to say, the fo­cus on the 1918 Armistice was over­shad­owed, and even­tu­ally, af­ter World War II and the Korean War, Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower changed the name of the hol­i­day to Vet­er­ans Day so as to make Novem­ber 11 “a day to honor Amer­i­can vet­er­ans of all wars.”

As the hol­i­day evolved, Vet­er­ans Day be­came one of Amer­ica’s most pa­tri­otic hol­i­days, with pro­fuse dis­play of the red, white and blue, and Main street pa­rades of vet­er­ans in towns across the coun­try. “We the peo­ple of the United States” owe our vet­er­ans so much, for they were will­ing to make the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice — to fight to their deaths if need be — in the de­fense of free­dom for other coun­tries as well as our home­land.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the num­ber of vet­er­ans who turn out to vote has been con­sis­tently higher than non-vet­er­ans by 16 per­cent to 30 per­cent. The po­lit­i­cal im­por­tance of vet­er­ans has also ad­vanced with the pas­sage of time. In March 1989, Pres­i­dent Rea­gan el­e­vated the Vet­er­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion (VA) to a cab­i­net-level depart­ment, with the cre­ation of the Sec­re­tary of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs. Can­di­date Don­ald Trump made VA re­form a key pol­icy in his plat­form, and within months of be­com­ing pres­i­dent, he signed into law a new kind of as­sis­tance for vet­er­ans, au­tho­riz­ing them to re­ceive care out­side the VA med­i­cal sys­tem when needed.

The U.S. mil­i­tary never ini­ti­ated ma­jor hos­til­i­ties, and was of­ten more of a re­luc­tant re­spon­der. That was true for both World War I and II and sub­se­quent wars in Korea, Viet­nam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States has al­ways stood for free­dom and against ag­gres­sion and tyranny. Surely, many Amer­i­cans who en­listed to serve in wartime knew nei­ther the for­saken places they were go­ing to nor what they would en­counter, how­ever, they all had a dis­tinct con­vic­tion that they were fight­ing not only to set over­seas cap­tives free but to pro­tect free­dom at home.

Of all for­eign wars in which Amer­i­cans were en­gaged, World War II is by far the largest with more than 16 mil­lion sol­diers serv­ing or de­ployed over­seas. To­day, only about 2 per­cent of those vet­er­ans re­main alive as the rem­nants of the “Great­est Gen­er­a­tion.” When we think about these vet­er­ans this Novem­ber 11, who will all likely die of old age in a mat­ter of five or six years, Christ’ s teach­ing that“Greater love hath no man than this, that aman­lay down his life for his friends,” takes on new mean­ing.

The world re­mains as un­set­tled with bad ac­tors as in pre­vi­ous times. Let us hope that present and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions never for­get the quote adapted by a mod­ern states­man from Thomas Jef­fer­son’s orig­i­nal that, “The price of free­dom is eter­nal vig­i­lance and a will­ing­ness to act in its de­fense.”


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