Veterans Day falls in November because its historical foundation is the armistice marking the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, ending hostilities in World War I. But the fact that the holiday shares the same month as Thanksgiving is fitting. What month would be better suited to show gratitude to the men and women who have served the nation in war and peace over more than two centuries?
After the Korean War, Congress changed the name of the annual observance from Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all veterans. But its purpose is unchanged: A day filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations, as the declaration issued by President Woodrow Wilson noted on the holiday’s first commemoration.
In all, nearly 22.7 million U.S. veterans are living today; about 492,000 in Indiana, according to Veterans Affairs figures. Today’s veterans are as diverse as the nation itself. They include the thinning ranks of men and women who served in World War II. Now in their 80s and 90s, they once stormed the beaches of Normandy and filled the skies over the Pacific. They returned home to build a strong and prosperous nation.
Korean War-era veterans followed their lead, populating the forces at Inchon, Pyongyang and Seoul as they stemmed Communist aggression. Vietnam-era veterans shared the experience of serving courageously and nobly even as the nation began to question the objectives and cost of war. Their experiences, reflected on the nightly news, offered the most intimate look at military sacrifice to date and made household names of Khe Sanh, the Gulf of Tonkin and Hamburger Hill.
After the gulf wars, veterans returned home with illnesses inevitably linked to their service, reminding Americans of the obligation to support troops at home as well as overseas.
The latest veterans, however, should give greatest pause this Veterans Day. The 2.3 million men and women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq have returned to face devastating unemployment and a public safety net stretched to the point of breaking. Many struggle with physical and mental scars. They need not just a day in which they are honored but a commitment to ensure they are supported in health care, education and employment.
The 1918 armistice that inspired Veterans Day was regarded as the end of the war to end all wars. Sadly, the years since have seen many more.
Today and always, we are grateful to the men and women who stepped forward to serve.