Veterans deserve our thanks every day

Published 8:42 am Friday, November 10, 2017

Veterans Day is observed each November 11, but every day should be a day to honor veterans, the men and women who have laid their lives on the line for this country and freedom.

This weekend there will be ceremonies all across this nation calling attention to the sacrifices and contributions of veterans. It’s a message that should resonate all year.
Carter County has a rich military heritage, and each veteran has a story to tell. And each story has one thing in common. Regardless of when they served or where they served, they all made sacrifices for their country, whether it’s time away from their family or — in too many cases — their health and their lives. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude.
We can visit the War Memorial in downtown Elizabethton and read the names of the men who made the supreme sacrifice in time of war for our nation. Farther down the street we can walk among the walls that contain the names of men and women who have served their country in the military. Many are no longer with us. They were common people with an uncommon valor.
This year marks the 64th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice and the 44th anniversary of the withdrawal from Vietnam.
Congress voted for Armistice Day as a legal holiday in 1938, 20 years after the first armistice ended the carnage of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. Although World War I was originally called the “war to end all wars,” by the late 1930s few believed that hope could still be kept alive. Storm clouds were building in Europe, and on Sept. 1, 1939, World War II began when Adolf Hitler’s troops invaded Poland.
In 1953, the people of Emporia, Kansas, began calling the holiday Veterans Day as a tribute to the veterans of their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill introduced by a Kansas congressman renaming the national holiday Veterans Day. The name will remain as long as there are caring people to remember its significance every November 11.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is set aside each year in solemn remembrance of the first Armistice Day, when the world rejoiced and celebrated after four years of unspeakable horror, and to remember the sacrifices men and women made in order to ensure a peace that would last for many years.
Over the years, the way Americans celebrated Veterans Day shifted from solely honoring the dead to honoring veterans of all wars. Especially after the nation’s long involvement in the Vietnam War, the holiday’s emphasis was broadened to include not only parades and patriotic orations in village squares but also gatherings at major landmarks such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, where people walk silently along the wall, placing gifts and standing in quiet vigil. Often their hands fall over the names of those who made the supreme sacrifice in an unpopular war never officially declared by Congress.
Support groups organized by veterans of military service, including the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, work tirelessly each November to raise money for their charitable activities by selling paper poppies crafted by disabled veterans. Although a more frequent sight in past years than today, the imitation bright red wildflower is still seen tucked into lapels as a symbol of World War I and its countless bloody battles. They are memorialized in a John McCrae poem, written after a 1915 battle in Europe. Its opening line reads, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row.”
As Americans remember their military veterans — those who served in times of war and peace — it should be with some degree of shame at how poorly the nation has cared for its aging warriors and those who recently returned from combat zones.
The Veterans Administration health care system will be stressed in coming years as baby boomer vets approach senior citizen age. And the needs of veterans who have experienced conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to be felt. The unacceptably high rate of suicides in returning soldiers and the increasingly visible scars known as post-traumatic stress disorder remind us that much more must be done to help these men and women cope with the mental strains of their service.
This Veterans Day, please take a few minutes to thank a member of your family or a neighbor who served or is serving this country.
It’s our turn to salute. To all veterans, thank you for serving.

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