Veterans Day 2015
Veterans Day 2015
In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln defined the two days our nation would later set aside to honor those who protect us. In one passage, he speaks of “those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.” We set aside Memorial Day in May to honor and mourn them.
In another passage, he speaks of “the brave men, living AND dead, who struggled here,” for whom we set aside this day, the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
The armistice declared on that day in 1918 ended what was then called “The Great War.” Indeed, so great had been its horror and carnage, it was expected to be the last war in the history of mankind.
But it wasn’t. So Armistice Day become Veterans’ Day, which we set aside to reflect upon and to honor the patriotism of ALL those who step forward when their country calls – the heroism of ALL those who place themselves in harm’s way in defense of our Constitution and the freedom it protects.
We come here today to take measure of what we owe them. And we ask ourselves, how can we possibly repay them?
First, we owe it to them to assure the time they lost, the careers they postponed, the family lives they sacrificed, the wounds they sustained – all on behalf of our nation – are fully compensated as they return to civilian life. And that begins with the help they need to resume those careers and secure for their families the prosperity and security that they had foregone in service to our nation.
Many have come home with life-changing injuries with which they will do battle every waking moment for the rest of their lives. And once the parades are over and the speeches are done and we all go home to our own lives – these wounded warriors will go home to struggle nobly and often alone to do even the most basic tasks we take for granted. In a sense, they never leave the field of combat, and they need to know that their countrymen will never forget that.
Let us also remember that our fallen veterans left behind grieving families that will never recover from their loss. For these Gold Star families, every day is Memorial Day and the pain you see in their eyes is the same pain first seen by those who delivered them the terrible news years ago. Every member of these Gold Star families is a veteran, too, whose enlistment never ends and whose wounds never heal.
We have a solemn obligation, as Lincoln said in his second inaugural, “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and his widow and his orphan.”
What else do we owe the men and women we honor today? More important than having their backs when they leave service is having their backs while they are in service. In order to commit this nation to war and to place our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in harm’s way, the Constitution requires an act by the representatives of ALL the people – and not the whim of one person. And when that terrible decision is forced upon us, this nation owes those who defend us its undivided and total commitment – its will, its might and all of its resources -- and to apply every ounce of fortitude to win through to absolute victory.
We owe the recent generations who served in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East an extra measure of gratitude for the unique challenges they have had to confront. They willingly answered our nation’s call without our nation’s total commitment. They operated under rules of engagement that often prevented them from fighting back. They often found themselves with inadequate equipment and hamstrung with inept policies imposed by distant and often disengaged politicians. MacArthur was right, “In war, there is no substitute for victory.”
But the most important way we can repay our veterans is to assure that the Constitution they protected from foreign enemies is honored, respected, and obeyed by those who exercise its powers here at home. This we do through our votes. For if the American people ever cease to insist that their Constitution be obeyed by our public officials, that Constitution will cease to exist and all the sacrifices made by all the veterans in all the wars down through history will have been for naught.
We owe it to them to defend at home the freedoms they defended abroad. That is the most fundamental responsibility of a citizen, and we dishonor those who sacrificed so much for us if we fail to meet that responsibility.
But if we meet it and secure the blessings of liberty at home as they did abroad, we assure that their sacrifices were not in vain. We owe them much, but they don’t ask for much -- for themselves. What they do ask for – and have every right to expect – is that their sacrifice means something, as Lincoln said, “That that nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”