Our View: Veterans Day
Posted: November 10, 2012
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month . . . ” In the hurly-burly of the present, we often too easily forget the sacrifices of the past. Not so perhaps this year, nine decades plus four years removed from that morning when an armistice was signed in a French forest, bringing World War I — the so-called “war to end all wars” — to a merciful end.
More so perhaps than ever before, as our nation’s armed forces continue to strive valiantly to bring peace and the promise of democracy to the Middle East, take some time this day — Veterans Day — to look around you at the folks who still fill the main-traveled roads of your life. And there you will find them, the men and women who left home and hearth to shoulder the burdens of liberty.
He is the elderly man across the street raking leaves. He is the pharmacist at the corner drugstore who diligently fills all your prescriptions. She is the next-door neighbor who never fails to pick up your mail when you’re away on vacation. He is the town official who, every Memorial Day, reads Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in such an inspiring manner. He is the retired country doctor — still spirited though ravaged by the infirmities of old age — who learned his trade on a far-flung Korean battlefield. He is your father, your uncle, your brother. She is your aunt, or your child’s Sunday school teacher. They are all American veterans; today is their day.
To be sure, they had names, these men and women who lived and died so 310 million people today might enjoy the fresh air of freedom. He is Nathan Hale, who regretted he had but one life to give for his country. She is Molly Pitcher, who, in the searing temperatures of the Battle of Monmouth, brought water to her husband’s battery and then helped fire the guns when the men were overcome by heat.
He is Oliver Hazard Perry, who built a small fleet and then sallied out to meet the enemy and make them his. He is Robert E. Lee, who followed his beloved home state into the Southern Confederacy and then helped bind an entire nation’s wounds in the wake of a vicious war among brothers.
He is Alvin York, a gentle, peace-loving man from the Tennessee hills who singlehandedly captured more than 120 German soldiers one day in World War I. He is five brothers named Sullivan, who went down with the same ship in World War II.
He is Capt. Dick Shea, a West Point miler who died leading his troops up Porkchop Hill in Korea. And he is David Owens, a young Marine from Round Hill killed nine years ago in Baghdad on a mission of “enduring freedom.”
We owe them all an unpayable debt, unpayable for the simple reason that simple duty does not demand payment. Yet our gratitude and appreciation should be everlasting. We are able to quibble and quarrel about “transformational” elections, debt-ceiling limits, health-care “reform,” border security, the meaning of “change,” the closure of a city roadway, and myriad other issues because these men and women laid aside their plows, pencils, and pickaxes when their country called.
Yet for every Owens, Shea, or York, there are nameless Americans no less heroic, no less courageous, no less giving. And we have seen them on every page of our history. He answered the call of Paul Revere and then, feet bleeding and cold, rode with Washington across the Delaware to rekindle the light of a dream at its darkest hour. He cradled the head of a dying James Lawrence and took seriously the command not to “give up the ship.” He followed the plume of Stuart while his brother marched with U.S. Grant — and they met several times in the lush Virginia countryside, each armed with his own interpretation of liberty.
He charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt and then wept when his youngest died in the Argonne Forest. He flew with Eddie Rickenbacker and Jimmy Doolittle, and sailed with Halsey, Farragut and John Paul Jones. He hit the beaches of North Africa and Normandy while his twin walked into the teeth of Japanese machine-gun fire on Tarawa and Iwo Jima.
He fought his way with Chesty Puller and the First Marines from the frozen Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, to the docks of Hungnam and the sea. He battled an unseen enemy in an unpopular war at Hue and Khe Sanh and she, an Army nurse, helped the last refugee child aboard when fear rode the last plane from Da Nang. He drove a Bradley armored vehicle through a “desert storm” to the gates of Basra. And now he stands ready to take the fight to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
They are America’s veterans, and today is their day. Remember them, for without their selflessness and bravery, these words would ring hollow. And there would be no holidays to celebrate.
“Veterans Day,” the reprinting of which (with slight annual alterations) is now a tradition at The Star, first appeared on Nov. 11, 1993.