A few facts about Veterans Day, 2018. Yes, you know by now: This is the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I, signed at the 11th hour of 11th day or 11th month, concluding a “war to end all wars,” which didn’t – but did consume 116,000 American lives. Yes, those lives turned the tide, saved Europe and ended World War I. And yes, Veterans Day honors their sacrifice.
Wind the clock forward. More than 16 million Americans served in World War II, another war in which America saved Europe, fighting for principles of free society, and – in that war – lost more than 400,000 lives. Veterans Day also honors those who lived and died in that global conflagration.
What else should Veterans Day 2018 mean? Remembering more than 36,000 Americans who fell in the Korean War, more than 58,000 who died in Vietnam, more than 4000 Americans killed in Iraq with 31,000 wounded, 2000 killed in Afghanistan with 20,000 wounded in that struggling country.
In each of these conflicts, Americans did not take up arms with enthusiasm, nor to conquer or hold captive another society or country, not to gain or permanently hold ground, not to vent sectarian or ethnic hostilities, not for any ignoble purpose – but to defend universally-recognized ideals, to restore stability to a shaken world, and to prevent further harm to innocents. Imagine that. And now think with me – that it is true.
We celebrate Veterans Day, in part, to pause and remember how special that singular fact of selfless devotion is – that any nation of flawed humans would put their own blood, treasure, sons and daughters in harm’s way to secure a more perfect union – among nations and peoples of the world.
But there is more to this Veterans Day. Alive in America, we honor the last living five percent of those 16 million boys and girls who rose to perverse our liberty in WWII, our “Greatest Generation.” We also honor the 21 million American veterans of all wars, still among us. Most gave away the innocence of young adulthood to meet the challenge of evil – head on.
And what is a veteran? One who dared to do something most Americans do not think about, do not have to think about, or consciously choose against – to voluntarily, and in earlier conflicts responding to draft, place their life between evil and your life. They affirmatively say “yes,” to the question – will you put yourself in the position to die for another?
In phrase, the veteran is someone who has selflessly said – even while hoping to live a long and productive life – that “the good fight” is worth loss of his or her life, that ideals and the safety of others comes first, and that this country – this remarkable place we call America – is worth their all.
A single digit percentage of Americans do this. And they often give more than a mere commitment. They offer their own life – but also often the joint commitment of a patriotic family, endangerment of future health, familial stability, and even personal sanity.
So, on this Veterans Day – in this one week a year – what do we owe these men and women? What do we owe those who saw combat and those who never saw it but volunteered? Those now ailing as a result of their commitment, and those blessedly healthy? Those who returned to loving families and those homeless? Those who stood up, signed up, and showed up – to defend the rest of us?
Answer: More than we can repay. Here is the truth. We repay them all, in some modest, immeasurable, yet important way by thinking, understanding, remembering and embracing their spirit – the conscious, unashamed, unabashed love of country and ideals, the spirit behind their big decision.
Patriotism – love of our uniquely good and great nation – is a small price to ask for what we have been given. In another way, patriotism is the sine qua non, the basis on which all rests, the foundation for our own living, breathing freedom. It is enormous. It is what we should think about, perhaps with less cynicism and more gratitude, on Veterans Day 2018.
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