On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 the armistice to end World War I, the so-called “war to end all wars,” was signed. That appellation was premature. Here we are, 83 years later on the 11th day of the 11th month of an 11th year and the United States and the world are still engulfed by wars that continue to be measured by the numbers of dead and wounded, by the sacrifices of those who serve and their loved ones, and by the knowledge that untold numbers of lives are irrevocably changed every day by war.
Those who so confidently predicted the end of all war almost a century ago could not have known, of course, what would follow. So certain were they that armed conflict would become a thing of the past that they proclaimed Nov. 11 to be Armistice Day, a commemoration that soon became celebrated around the globe. When war did not end, but expanded in scope, cost and consequence, the name of the observance was changed to Veterans Day.
That is what we observe today — to take time to honor all who have served and those who now serve in the nation’s armed forces. It is an especially poignant observance this year. American men and women are in harm’s way in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Others are stationed where danger from the enemy might not be as direct, but where wearing the uniform of the United States nevertheless puts their lives at risk.
Over the years, millions of Americans willingly have assumed that risk. The casualty figures are staggering. More than 600,000 have been killed in combat and hundreds of thousands more wounded. The cost of service is high, but Americans historically have borne that burden without complaint. They still do.
The recompense for such service is not always great. There is the honor of answering the nation’s call. There is the satisfaction of a job well done while in service. And there is the grateful thanks of a nation, which is most visible on Veterans Day.
Still, more should be done. Veterans, as president Barack Obama has noted recently, have a high unemployment rate. Many have health issues related to their service. Many are homeless. That should be a blot on the nation’s conscience. More can and should be done to assist those who served the country in their own time of need.
It is too easy, sometimes, to overlook the sacrifices of America’s military men and women. Those in combat are in the most danger, but others are not far removed from it. The world is a disorderly place, and trouble in some far-flung locale could require the presence of U.S. troops anywhere and anytime the nation’s interests are threatened.
It is proper on Veterans Day to recognize those who once served as well as those currently in uniform. The former have done their duty. The latter face the possibility that they could someday soon have to sacrifice their lives for their country — and for us.