For more than 100 years, Americans have set aside Nov. 11 as a day to honor the service and sacrifices of the men and women who have served in the armed forces to defend our country.
Initially the day marked the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, famously signed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The next year, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation reminding the country of its importance:
“To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory.”
By 1954, following World War II, the holiday was renamed Veterans Day. Unlike Memorial Day, which honors those who died in America’s wars, this day honors all of those who served, whether they died or survived, and whether their service was in war or peace.
This is the first time in two decades when we are celebrating Veterans Day when the country is formally at peace. We still have many men and women stationed around the world, many still in harm’s way, but at least the long struggles of Iraq and Afghanistan are behind us.
Now comes the hard work of peace. In the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, it is time “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”
From the earliest times in America, even before the United States was formed, American soldiers have followed a creed: “No Man Left Behind.” Robert Rogers, who led a 600-man American militia in the French and Indian War during the 1750s, drew up a list of rules for his soldiers. One was that every man would be accounted for after a battle, dead or alive.
Ever since, through the many wars that followed, American military men and women have tried to observe that standard. It was not always possible, in the chaos and fog of war. Witness the thousands of soldiers classified as missing in action. But it is the standard.
America’s veterans try to live by that rule during battles, and even after the battles are long over. Veterans have formed organizations to help their comrades and buddies to adjust to life after the gunfire has ended.
Since the years after the Civil War, when Northern vets formed the Grand Army of the Republic, veterans have banded together to help their brothers-in-arms.
Some veterans can make their return to civilian life easily, but a lot cannot. Some just need time to re-adjust, but others have more serious issues, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
That is where other veterans have stepped in and stepped up. Organizations like the National Veterans Foundation advocate for veterans to help other veterans. The group says on its website:
“One of the most effective forms of assistance for former military members may be vets helping vets, and for good reason. Military service fosters a sense of camaraderie and trust between service members that usually continues even after the military service is complete. Veterans may also be highly motivated to help a brother or sister in arms and to go above and beyond to assist because of this bond.”
Veterans are special people. Particularly with the advent of the all-volunteer Army, it takes a special kind of person to serve our country.
If you want to honor a veteran on this Veterans Day, you can say thank you by supporting the organizations like the foundation, or any of the many other groups that are devoted to helping veterans.
Or you can ask a vet what organization is most important or has been most helpful to them, and then make a contribution to that cause.
Telling a vet “Thank you for your service” is great. Showing them your thanks is even better, especially on Veterans Day.