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Veterans Day 2009 Chicago Soldier Field
Photo: Kate Gardiner/Flickr

Last month at my son’s wedding, I met a well-dressed older man sitting with his girlfriend. The gentleman, Don, had arrived in a car with a license tag that read “8th AF.” I asked about it and he informed me that he had been a B-17 navigator in 1944 and was lucky enough to complete his quota of missions over the hostile skies of Nazi Germany. In World War II he and other men flew long flights, day after day, mission after mission, at high altitude against the best of the German Luftwaffe, through rarified, freezing air filled with explosions, bullets and blood. He went on to fight in Korea, then fly B-47 bombers armed with nuclear weapons.

Just a few weeks ago, I befriended another easygoing gentleman, Bill, as I reviewed his excellent AR-15 modification. He just happened to mention that he was a pararescueman in Vietnam with many, many flights into enemy airspace and hostile jungle. He said his job was to “get off the helicopter and go looking alone in the bush for the guys that needed me.” Just a week later, I called to find him in the hospital. After talking shop for a little bit, he casually mentioned that he had just been diagnosed with stage-three cancer, likely a result of Agent Orange exposure. He did not complain. It was just another minor obstacle for this warrior.

looters-will-be-shot-by-local-vet
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Recently, after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, I saw a sign in Long Beach, Long Island, New York. It boldly stated, “LOOTERS WILL BE SHOT BY A LOCAL VET.” The sign-maker’s home and the homes of others in the neighborhood were being protected by someone who was familiar with going into harm’s way to keep others safe.

These veterans are from different wars and different times, but they each had one thing in common: They lived a life of service at their own risk. Don sat in the nose of his Flying Fort, seeing bullets and shrapnel rip though the paper-thin skin of his bomber and into the bodies of his comrades. Bill penetrated the jungles of North Vietnam alone, looking for pilots who would most certainly die without rescue. The Long Beach vet drew a line in the sand to keep fellow Americans safe. These individuals served their country and learned that doing so is an honor and duty, one they are still proud to perform.

Let’s thank those veterans who kept us safe, during WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, and let’s thank those that still do. We salute and honor all our veterans for their service and for enabling us to live in peace.

Page 2: A message from the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2012 – “Our men and women in uniform have taught us about strength, duty, devotion, resolve — cornerstones of a commitment to protect and defend that has kept our country safe for over 200 years. In war and in peace, their service has been selfless and their accomplishments have been extraordinary,” President Barack Obama said in his proclamation issued today declaring Nov. 11 as Veterans Day.

“Whether they fought in Salerno or Samarra, Heartbreak Ridge or Helmand, Khe Sanh or the Korengal, our veterans are part of an unbroken chain of men and women who have served our country with honor and distinction. On Veterans Day, we show them our deepest thanks. Their sacrifices have helped secure more than two centuries of American progress, and their legacy affirms that no matter what confronts us or what trials we face, there is no challenge we cannot overcome, and our best days are still ahead.

“This year, we marked the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. We began to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. We welcomed our veterans back home from Iraq, and we continued to wind down operations in Afghanistan. These milestones remind us that, though much has changed since Americans first took up arms to advance freedom’s cause, the spirit that moved our forebears is the same spirit that has defined each generation of our service members. Our men and women in uniform have taught us about strength, duty, devotion, resolve — cornerstones of a commitment to protect and defend that has kept our country safe for over 200 years. In war and in peace, their service has been selfless and their accomplishments have been extraordinary.

“Even after our veterans take off the uniform, they never stop serving. Many apply the skills and experience they developed on the battlefield to a life of service here at home. They take on roles in their communities as doctors and police officers, engineers and entrepreneurs, mothers and fathers. As a grateful Nation, it is our task to make that transition possible — to ensure our returning heroes can share in the opportunities they have given so much to defend. The freedoms we cherish endure because of their service and sacrifice, and our country must strive to honor our veterans by fulfilling our responsibilities to them and upholding the sacred trust we share with all who have served.

“On days like this, we are called to reflect on immeasurable burdens that have been borne by so few. We pay tribute to our wounded, our missing, our fallen, and their families — men and women who have known the true costs of conflict and deserve our deepest respect, now and forever. We also remember that our commitments to those who have served are commitments we must honor not only on Veterans Day, but every day. As we do so, let us reaffirm our promise that when our troops finish their tours of duty, they come home to an America that gives them the benefits they have earned, the care they deserve, and the fullest opportunity to keep their families strong and our country moving forward.

“With respect for and in recognition of the contributions our service members have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided that November 11 of each year shall be set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our Nation’s veterans.

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2012, as Veterans Day. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through appropriate public ceremonies and private prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States and to participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.”

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