Today I hope to share with you the reason why I and so many others feel that Veterans Day is one of the most important holidays on our calendar. I wish Veterans Day was every single day. I am always in the spirit of saying thanks to our many men and women who have served and continue to serve our nation in uniform.
Veterans day finds its roots in armistice day, the day marking the end of the Great War, otherwise known as World War I, where fighting ceased on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year.
In May 1938, Congress made Armistice Day a legal holiday with the purpose of honoring World War I veterans.
5 months later, On October 8 1938, President Roosevelt issued a proclamation changing the name of the holiday to Veterans Day and thereby expanding the meaning of the holiday to honor all veterans. Ever since 1938, people all across America have come together to honor our veterans in various ways, with a sense of unity seldom seen in our nation’s history.
To me, Veterans Day means much more than a congressional bill designating it as a holiday.
To me, Veterans Day represents the culmination of events that have brought our country to the point we are at today and the individuals who have sacrificed time out of their lives to protect and preserve our American ideals.
To me, it’s the mental images that I get when thinking about our founding fathers freezing through the winter at Valley Forge under General George Washington as these patriots fought for the independence of the United States of America.
To me, it’s the idea that not only did we gain that independence over 230 years ago, but we also defended it only 20 years after gaining it as the British once again tried to bring us under their rule during the War of 1812.
It’s the idea the even though during the war of 1812 our Capitol building in Washington DC was burned to the ground, our newly found American resolve carried us through until we were able to secure our independence from Britain for good a short time later.
To me, Veterans Day symbolizes the sacrifices made by so many Americans from 1861 until 1865 as brother fought brother and father fought son in support of individual beliefs, more importantly, veterans day represents the ability of these veterans of both the north as well as the south to come together once more following the conclusion of this bloody, heart-wrenching conflict in a way that only true service members could.
Then of course we have the Great War, or World War I that sparked the beginning of this holiday that we all come together to commemorate as Veterans Day. This day is about remembering the legacy of our doughboys, though they are sadly no longer with us, the people of the world will forever be grateful for the sacrifices they made in the trenches and killing fields of no man’s land in Western Europe.
To me, the most important thing about Veterans Day is that it helps us all remember the personal sacrifices each of you have made for the safety, protection, and greater good of our country.
Never in the course of human history have Americans been asked to sacrifice so much as they were 70 years ago during World War II. So many of you gave up years of your lives to serve Uncle Sam and assist in ridding the world of tyranny. You fought through the islands of the Pacific against a brutal Japanese enemy. You witnessed the early struggles of ill-equipped American forces as you fought through North Africa and Guadalcanal. You trained, prepared and waited until you invaded mainland Europe by sea and by air at Normandy. You fought through the coldest winter in 40 years as the Germans made their final push in the Ardennes forest during the Battle of the Bulge where over 49,000 young Americans lost their lives. Many of you served in the Navy, Coast Guard and Marines as you witnessed the flag raising on Iwo Jima, one of the flag raisers a Kentucky boy named Franklin Sousley who lived a mere 45 miles from Ashland. You drove the decisive blows to Tokyo and Berlin as you flew flying fortresses that brought the costliest conflict in human history to an end. Following the end of the war, many of you stayed overseas for many months and even years to assist with rebuilding continents that had been destroyed by years of war. There is no doubt in my mind that without the sacrifices of your generation, the Greatest Generation, our nation would be speaking German or Japanese right now. To you a debt will always be owed.
Many of you were called upon in the early 50’s to fight a war in a very harsh environment. Korea, a small nation in Asia that was a place many of you had never heard of. Yet you ventured overseas because America was now the shining beacon of freedom for people across the globe. For 3 long years you fought to make sure communism did not spread. This war had a very large impact on the Ashland area, so much so that two individuals of nearby Greenup County, Ernest West and John Collier received the Medal of Honor for their actions. One of the gentlemen, John, received the medal posthumously after he was killed in action while smothering a grenade with his body to save the lives of his comrades, he was 21. Following the cease-fire agreement, many of you were brought back home though technically the war still rages some 59 years later. Many say the Korean War is the forgotten war, but trust me, to me and many others, the war is by no means forgotten and we are forever thankful for your sacrifice and accomplishments during this trying time in American history.
Just a few years later, so many young Americans found themselves immersed deep in the jungles of Vietnam. Like your fathers and grandfathers you served your country, however you had to learn a whole new type of fighting. You were no longer fighting an enemy on large battlefields, but one that was often unseen. For almost 20 years, Americans gave their lives in Vietnam only to come home to little or no welcome. To me, Veterans Day is about righting this wrong and showing how appreciative we are for those men and women who sacrificed so much in that war and remembering the 58,000 plus that did not make it home.
By the 1990’s a younger generation of patriots was emerging. A generation that, like myself, did not witness the previously mentioned events, but simply read about them in history books. When our country was attacked on September 11, 2001, a whole new breed of veteran was born. A type of national spirit that has not been seen in many years has developed as over 2 million of our nations’ finest have served in the middle east in the last decade much as their fathers did 20 years ago during the Persian Gulf War. With this new sacrifice comes a new sense of necessity to honor each and every one of you every day and especially on Veterans Day.
Civilians like me will never know the true cost of war. That is something that only those of you that have laid your lives on the line have seen. However, please know that we are thankful and deeply appreciative and indebted for your serve to our great nation. It is our goal that through recognitions such as this event today, as well as the many events and ceremonies that will take place during the coming days and weeks that we can give a little bit back and give to you the thanks of a grateful nation. Thank you for your time today and your service to our country.
Happy Veterans Day 2012