Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day and most people will wake in the morning, go to work, eat their dinner and go to bed without ever taking much notice of the calendar. Only our older Americans will remember a time when the meaning and solemnity of the 11th day of November was understood. In 1918, seven months prior to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the “The Great War,” was concluded with an agreed upon cease fire. The armistice took effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the month and it was then that the Allied Nations and Germany put an end to, then, the most costly battle in human history. On November 11th of the following year President Wilson presided over the nation’s first celebration of “Armistice Day.” But after the defeat of Hitler in Germany and the Communist Allies in Korea America eventually ceased her celebration of the 1918 world peace and began her commemoration of the American Veteran in what we now know as “Veteran’s Day.”
In Frances Scott Key’s 1814 “Star Spangled Banner,” we sing, “…and the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh! Say does that star - spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In the Army’s “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” the lyrics read, “Valley Forge, Custer’s ranks, San Juan Hill and Patton’s tanks, and the Army went rolling along. Minute men from the start, always fighting from the heart, and the Army went rolling along…” And contemporary artist Toby Keith’s “An American Soldier,” reads, “And I will always do my duty, no matter what the price. I’ve counted up the cost. I know the sacrifice. Oh and I don’t want to die for you, but if dying’s asked of me, I’ll bare that cross with honor, ‘cause freedom don’t come free, I’m an American Soldier.”
During a stay in Virginia, my husband and I stopped for a visit to Yorktown, the American Revolution’s 1781 final resting place. We surveyed the landscape where Cornwallis’ lieutenant waved the white flag of surrender. I have peered at the photographs of some of the 618,000 haunting faces of those lost during the American Civil War. In the small town of Gettysburg, I once trudged through the bloodstained soil of the wheat fields. From a distance, I looked upon the farm houses where people’s homes had been transformed into hospitals for the injured and sickbays for the dead and dying.
I remember vaguely the aged World War I Vets standing during our church’s Veteran’s Day Services. I recall learning about the “suicide ditches” at the front lines as well as the some 4.3 million American Soldiers who had left the comfort of our soil for the battle torn Western Front. The evils of the Holocaust were woven into my childhood curriculum. Images of Concentration Camp victims were burned into my subconscious and the words of Adolf Hitler came to be an indelible reminder of war’s righteous place in this world. My grandfather left his family to fly planes over the skies of Germany and today scores of white crosses drape the Normandy countryside.
Most every American alive today has spoken with a veteran of the Korean War. I have listened to my Uncle Bill share his countless stories at our family gatherings. To this day, veterans of the Vietnam War can hardly speak of their service to our nation. Standing in defense of our freedoms, they suffered a scorn most of us will never grasp. I remember the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the deployment of our troops into the deserts of Kuwait. I remember the attacks on the World Trade Center. I remember watching those planes collide into the magnificent structures which once served as a manifestation of our freedoms, our republic and our way of life. I remember the eventual demise of those two towers. I remember the crashing of Flight 93 and the attack on the Pentagon and I remember fearing the sounds of aircraft in the air for several days thereafter. I remember the subsequent deployment of troops and the eventual discovery of Saddam Hussein in his pitiable hideout in the dirt.
For the protection of you and of me, Soldiers are fighting even as I draft this column. This past Sunday, I participated in a breakfast sale at Colorado’s Buckley Air Force Base. I listened to the sounds of F-18’s billowing overhead as I doled out the burritos. I commented on the thunderous hum to one of the soldiers. His response has remained with me ever since. “Great sound isn’t it? Sound of freedom.” Surrounded by possibilities, free to indulge, free to disagree, free to remember and free to forget, the majority of us will pass through this day without skipping a beat or batting an eye. But tomorrow we are asked to remember these, our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our grandparents, our sons and our daughters, our mothers and our fathers and all those who have ever served in defense of our freedoms. Stop to remember them. And while you are there, remind yourself that we get to forget.. because we know they never will.