12 November 2003

Honoring Our Veterans

In commemoration of the end of the First World War, the United States, as well as European countries, established Nov. 11 as Armistice Day. The fighting ended at 11am on November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). In 1921, the United States buried an "unknown

soldier" from the Great War in Arlington National Cemetary. It was done to honor all who had died in the conflict. England and France did the same, each burying an unknown soldier in a most honored place. In England, it was Westminster Abbey. In France, the Arc de Triomphe. All three burials occured on Nov.11.

By the time the United States had gotten involved in the Korean Conflict, much time had passed since World War I, so it was necessary to expand Armistice Day to include all American veterans. This happened in 1954, when Congress changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day; it was now a day to honor all American veterans, dead and alive (in contrast to Memorial Day, when we honor the dead).

When we reflect on the number of volunteers who fight on our behalf, it is quite amazing to think about those lives that have been given to protect us. From the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam Conflict, approximately 626,764 Americans have given their lives to protect and defend our freedom. Another 1.5 million have been wounded.

These soldiers defended the ideals that the United States stands for. These ideals include freedom, equality, individuality, the ability to better your life, and the right to work for positive social change.

Whether fighting the Nazi war machine, stopping the spread of Communism (it was not simply an imaginary threat), or fighting the War on Terrorism, the soldiers who have sacrificed so much for us deserve our recognition.

I am proud to say that many members of my family have been part of the military tradition of defending the United States. My grandfather, was part of the "Greatest Generation". He so desperately wanted to help serve his country that at first he attempted to enlist in the Air Force. They turned him down because he was color blind. He decided to turn to the part of the service that would accept him - the Army Infantry. He served as a doctor in the South Pacific. He was also a sharpshooter, but only had the option of either carrying his medical bag or his gun. He chose his medical bag. No doubt that many of those who made it home alive had my grandfather to thank.

In Europe at this same time, was the destruction of a third of the Jewish People. Of all the Jews in Europe, the Jews of Poland were the most decimated. One of the few Polish Jews who was able to survive the Nazi concentration camps was my cousin Bernard. After WWII, my great-aunt was able to bring him to the United States. He was so grateful to this country, he did not want to wait the five years to become a citizen. The fastest way to his goal was to join the military. He volunteered and was sent to Korea.

My father served in the Army during a relative time of quiet. He was active the last half of 1960, and spent another five and a half years in the reserves. And last but not least, one of my uncles just retired from the U.S. Navy. No doubt he has stories to tell, but I don't know them yet. Every veteran has stories, but it is up to us to ask to hear them.

Unfortunately in today's world, our veterans do not always get the honor that they deserve. It is time to recognize their accomplishments and the great sacrifices they have made, and continue to make, for this country.

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