Armistice Day marks the anniversary of the formal agreement, the armistice, that was signed in 1918 to officially end World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. On June 1, 1954 Congress passed an act to change the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. That same year President Dwight Eisenhower declared November 11 as a national U.S. holiday to solemnly commemorate, honor and pray for the veterans of all its wars who served in the Armed Services to preserve America’s heritage of freedom.
Over four million Americans served in World War I, and all of them are gone now. I had the privilege of meeting the last World War I veteran twenty years ago when the 108-year-old soldier was honored by the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. His name was Frank Buckles of Charles Town, West Virginia. As we prepared for his visit, a senior military officer gave me one specific mission during Mr. Buckles visit at the Pentagon that day. “Chaplain”, he said, “you pray that Mr. Buckles doesn’t have any health problems while we’re giving him a tour of the Pentagon! We want to get him back home alive to West Virginia!”
Since the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord to mark the beginning of the Revolutionary War 245 years ago, Americans have faithfully stepped up to answer the nation’s call to duty, both in times of peace and conflict. Veterans Day calls us to honor those who honored our country with its highest form or service and sacrifice. We remember and give thanks for the soldiers who survived the brutal winter at Valley Forge, the brothers in arms whose blood at Antietam and Gettysburg finally united a deeply divided nation, the “Doughboys” who fought in the muddy and deadly trenches of France, the brave men and women who stormed the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima, the gallant Americans who fought in some of the most difficult conditions on the Korean peninsula, the heroic troops who patrolled the hot jungles of Vietnam, Cold War veterans who volunteered to serve as freedom’s guardians, and our military forces engaged in combat today in southwest Asia.
There is no mystery behind the endurance and the success of American liberty. It is because in every generation, from the Revolutionary period to this very hour, brave Americans have stepped forward and served honorably in the Armed Forces of the United States. Every one of them deserves the thanks, admiration and prayers from our entire country.
Military service demands a special kind of sacrifice. The places where you live and serve, the risks you face, the people you deal with every day—all of these are usually decided by someone else. As long as a military member dons the uniform, the interests of the nation must always come first. Their duties are shared by family members who make many sacrifices of their own, face separation during deployments and sometimes bear extreme and permanent loss.
Most Americans profess to truly love our veterans, especially at gatherings on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. And while their feelings are usually sincere, it is important to remember that veterans are defending our great nation 365 days a year. The heroism, which has been demonstrated time and again by veterans from the American Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism, is sometimes unnoticed by those of us who enjoy the security that their sacrifice has provided.
Army Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha saw war at its very worst. While serving at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan, he and his comrades awakened to an attack by an estimated 300 enemy fighters on October 3, 2009. According to his Congressional Medal of Honor citation, Staff Sergeant Romesha was valiantly defending his position when he received a number of shrapnel wounds from a rocket propelled grenade. He continued to fight on through his pain and injuries. After receiving the nation’s highest military medal, Staff Sergeant Romesha said he felt conflicted. “The joy,” he said, “comes from recognition of us doing our jobs as soldiers on distant battlefields but is countered by the constant reminder of the loss of our battle buddies. My battle buddies. My soldiers. My friends.”
Staff Sergeant Romesha’s attitude is not hard to find among any of our veterans. They will never forget the sacrifice of their friends and neither will the Gold Star families who will have to cope without the embrace of their loved ones. The innocence of their grieving children will be challenged by the dramatic change affecting the balance of security and comfort in their family routine. The hearts of these families will feel the sharp sting of their loss, leaving them only with memories of their loving mom or dad. Life as they have known it will be much harder from now on.
Our debt to our military veterans can never be repaid, but our gratitude and respect must last forever.
First of all, let us remember the noble cause for which they served. In the Gospel of John 15:13, Jesus Christ told His disciples that He was on a sacred and noble mission. His goal, priority and purpose was to restore humanity’s relationship to God that had been destroyed by sin. Christ’s noble cause was to secure our liberty and freedom from the bondage to our sinful nature.
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, President George Bush called our nation to the noble cause of freedom. He said, “Ours is the cause of freedom. We’ve defeated freedom’s enemies in the past, and we will defeat them again. We cannot know every turn this battle will take, yet we know our cause is just, and our ultimate victory is assured. We will no doubt face new challenges, but we have our marching orders. My fellow Americans, let’s roll.”
Millions of young men and women heard that message and responded by volunteering their service to a nation at war. Today, let us remember our veterans, primarily young men and women who have set aside their hopeful dreams and personal ambitions to answer the nation’s call to duty. They left the comforts of home to deploy to some foreign land, willing to sacrifice life and limb, health and wellbeing, volunteering to stand in harm’s way and defend our freedom. Our veterans who deploy into combat quickly lose their innocence and a bit of the humanity as they personally witness the chaos, terror and carnage of war that we can continue to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Veterans also live with the constant reminder that their military service comes at a great cost. At a time in which we have growing concerns about national unity and international unrest, our lives today remain secure and free. Our many national liberties have been underwritten by the selfless and sacrificial service of our veterans. They’ve paid for our freedoms in full with their blood, sweat and tears. Many of them have given their full measure of duty by laying down their lives for the precious liberties that we hold dear. It is truly humbling to think of the eternal debt we owe those who’ve worn the nation’s cloth. We must never forget the personal, heartfelt commitment of our veterans.
Finally, let us remember the personal commitment it takes for every veteran to wear the uniform of the Armed Services. Jesus Christ taught his disciples about the importance of personal commitment. He said that there’s no greater love than laying down your life for your friends. Shortly after He said these words, He showed His disciples and the world that He was even willing to die on the cross at Calvary for the sins of the world.
Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith, 33, was a platoon sergeant with Bravo Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. On April 4, 2003, Smith was setting up a temporary enemy prisoner of war holding area during the seizure of Saddam International Airport when his unit came under attack. Sergeant Smith kept his soldiers focused during the fight while engaging an overwhelming enemy force with only his personal weapon, giving his soldiers time to regroup and mount an attack of their own.
When the shooting stopped, the enemy force had been totally defeated, but not before Staff Sergeant Smith had suffered a mortal wound. As a result of his heroic actions, the Congressional Medal of Honor was posthumously awarded to Sergeant First Class Smith, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Global War on Terrorism. In his last letter home to his wife, Smith said, “I’m prepared to give everything to make sure all my boys make it back home safely.”
There’s no greater love than this.
On this Veterans Day we salute our veterans for the noble cause, the great cost and the personal commitment they have given to keep our nation the home of the free and brave. How can we express our gratitude to our veterans and their families? We can give of ourselves in service to others in our communities, the nation and the world.
Our personal service is needed in our schools, our local government and civic organizations and our religious houses of worship. We can all make a difference by simply showing dignity, respect and love to others. We must make a conscious decision to practice the art of civility at a time in which there is such a shortage of it. What better way can we preserve and pass on our cherished national values, perhaps best summarized by one key phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance, “one nation, under God.”
God bless our veterans and their families. And, God bless America! President George W. Bush, Address to the Nation From Atlanta on Homeland Security, November 8, 2001, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/211868
Published November 11, 2020