Nearly 50 million men and women have served in our nation’s military since the founding 243 years ago.  And today we honor those who have worn the uniform and have, as the expression goes, “…at one point in their life signed a blank check payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their life.”

Americans observe Veterans Day on November 11th, the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I.  After the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson wanted a day to honor the service and heroism of the Americans who died during that conflict and proclaimed the first “Armistice Day” on November 11th 1919.  The hope was that World War I would be “the war to end all wars” but that notion proved ephemeral as just 20 years later another conflagration broke out in Europe and millions, including hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their lives.

In 1953 a store owner in Emporia Kansas had an idea that Armistice Day should be expanded to celebrate the service of veterans of all wars, not just those who had served in World War I; and a campaign to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day began.  Then on May 26th 1954 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill into law officially changing the name of the day to Veterans Day, which it’s been known as since.

We shouldn’t confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day.  Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor military personnel who died in the service of our nation, especially those who died in combat.  Whereas Veterans Day is a day set aside to honor all those who served honorably during both wartime and during times of peace.

Most of us have read or heard the poem written by Army veteran Charles M. Province wherein he eloquently expresses how “…it’s the soldier, not the minister who has given us freedom of religion and it’s the soldier, not the poet who has given us freedom of speech…” You can read the full elegy Online, it’ll only take a minute or so; and if you haven’t heard or read it, I promise it will make you pause.

Meanwhile, there’s an expression that’s frequently used when referring to veterans, especially those who’ve experienced combat, to wit:  “All gave some, and some gave all,” a reality veterans know above all others because no one leaves the military unchanged.  For some there are physical injuries that may have changed the course of a life; for others, while the wounds may be invisible, they remain a veteran’s constant companion.

There’s a reason Americans have achieved and prospered more than any peoples in history.  It’s because nowhere on earth have freedom and the dignity of the individual been made more available than here in the United States.  And while the price of this freedom has in many cases been high, it is the veteran who has always stood ready to pay it.

Veterans Day presents a bifurcation of emotion for me because yesterday, November 10th, was the 244th birthday of the United States Marine Corps a day held dear in the hearts of all Marines, past and present.

And while I honor veterans of all the branches of our armed forces, I would be remiss if I did not give special mention to some of the finest individuals I’ve ever known—the officers and men of Marine helicopter squadron HMM-263, a part of the 1st Marine Air Wing—the unit I flew with in Vietnam 50 years ago.  And to them I say, “Semper Fi “ brothers, it was an honor to have served with you.

For those interested, our local VFW Post 10721 will hold a special Veterans Day ceremony at Freedom Park at 11:00 AM—I hope to see you there.

Quote of the day: “I would say there’s one misperception of our veterans and that is they’re somehow damaged goods.  I don’t buy it, and while victimhood in America is exalted, I don’t think our veterans should join those ranks – General James N. Mattis, U.S. Marine Corps, Ret.

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