Every year on November 11, Americans come together to celebrate the military members and veterans who have served our country and protected the freedoms that we enjoy.
Originally called “Armistice Day,” November 11 signaled the end of World War I. The official cessation of hostilities took place at 11 a.m. “at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month” that we were so used to hearing back in our school years. Many of the nations involved in the war later changed the day’s name to Remembrance Day on which a two-minute moment of silence was observed.
Here in the United States, its name was changed to “Veterans Day” a date to celebrate all veterans of every era. There is always some confusion between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, but to put it simply Veterans Day is for the living (or those that survived their service) and Memorial Day is for the dead.
Ask 100 vets what Veterans Day means to them and you will likely get 100 different answers. Nearly all veterans believe that military service and Veterans Day in particular is a day to recognize the Honor, Sacrifice, and Commitment that everyone who joins the military takes on during their time in uniform.
Many of us use the day to reach out to fellow veterans that we may have lost touch with in the preceding months and to catch up. And to remember those who are no longer with us. Personally, I remember my own father’s service and those who served with him during WWII.
But it is important to remember that Veterans Day isn’t about getting 20 percent off at the local mall or even getting a free meal; although I don’t partake in those practices, they are appreciated for sure.
Rather, educating our younger generation is especially important on a day like today. According to statistics generated by the VA, approximately eight percent of our population has served or is actively serving in our military. That means that even given our “forever wars” in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. the vast majority of our population has never served in the military.
As a result, there is an increasing disconnect within our country in regards to the wars and the human cost associated with them and a population that is getting further and further removed from that cost.
Many journalists believe that “war stories don’t sell” and that the majority of Americans won’t click on or read war stories in the media. Sure, tales of heroic deeds and troops being decorated are always popular, but those everyday stories about war’s true cost are lost in the traffic over what’s new with Kim Kardashian’s wardrobe and other equally earth-shattering news of the day. There was a story that said that even during the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq during 2006, the majority of American schoolchildren couldn’t even find Iraq on the map.
Compounding the problem, with many colleges removing ROTC from their campuses, many, if not most, college students today will not know of anyone that serves and protects the very freedoms that they enjoy. And sadly, there is an emerging caste system wherein sons and daughters of troops are also answering the call. This means that less and less of our population is serving as “citizen soldiers,” which further adds to the divide.
Marine Lieutenant General John Kelly spoke a few years ago about the disconnect:
“Those with less of a sense of service to the nation never understand it when men and women of character step forward to look danger and adversity straight in the eye, refusing to blink or give ground, even to their own deaths. The protected can’t begin to understand the price paid so they and their families can sleep safe and free at night. No, they are not victims but are warriors, your warriors, and warriors are never victims, regardless of how and where they fall. Death, or fear of death, has no power over them. Their paths are paved by sacrifice, sacrifices they gladly make for you.”
So, as we pause on this day to reflect and honor all of our veterans, let us also learn from their example of selfless service. Not only should we honor their service and follow their lead but we should look past what differentiates us and truly unite around those common bonds that bring us all together as a great nation.