At a time when U.S. men and women are engaged in sometimes horrific combat and are at risk even as they go about their every-day activities in places far from home, the observance of Veterans Day today has an especial meaning. Today's observance honors those currently in uniform as well as the millions of Americans who willingly entered the nation's service in the past. It is an appreciation that is both hard-earned and undeniably proper.
This year there should be an intensified awareness of military veterans and enhanced gratitude for their service. Recent events -- in Afghanistan, particularly, and elsewhere around the globe -- are a painful and constant reminder of the obligation we have to honor and to remember those who have served the United States in both war and in peace.
Some families have more poignant reminders of the sacrifice made by those in uniform. They have lost loved ones. Others have sons, daughters, fathers, husbands, brothers and sisters under fire or on duty from home. Their departures for duty, even if they took place months ago, are well remembered; their safe arrival home is the subject of constant prayer.
Military service, past and present, is not forgotten here on Veterans Day. There will be familiar and soothing rites at the pavilion at the Chattanooga National Cemetery this afternoon. Music by the American Legion Post 95 Band and Choo Choo Chorus begins at 1:30 p.m. with a commemorative service following at 2. It is an inclusive ritual since Veterans Day recognizes all who served in the armed forces, unlike Memorial Day which commemorates those who have given their lives while serving their nation. The cemetery observance is not the only one of its type. Other public events around the region honor veterans, as well.
Recognizing veterans for service is hardly new. The United States always has honored its veterans, though commemorations were not always official. The fledgling nation, for example, honored Revolutionary War veterans with land grants. An official national holiday for veterans, though, took a long time to become fact.
Nov. 11 was officially proclaimed as Armistice Day in 1919 because the just concluded World War I ended "on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month." Those who helped establish the holiday hoped that it would be a commemoration limited to past events and service. That was not to be. World War II and Korea soon proved that war was always possible and that men and women would continue to answer the nation's call to arms.
To reflect that fact, the name of the Nov. 11 holiday was changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed enabling legislation. At the time, he said, he hoped the day would be "dedicated to world peace." It was a prophecy that, sadly, did not come to fruition. In the nearly 60 years since then, Americans have continued to answer the call to serve and fight in Vietnam, in the Gulf War, in Iraq and in many other places. That willingness to serve remains essential to U.S. freedoms.
The roll of veterans in the United States continues to grow, increased by sons and daughters who willingly serve in faraway and dangerous places. We should remember and honor veterans every day of every year, but today is a special time for the nation to salute all veterans, even as we pray for the safe return of those who currently honor America and its time-honored ideals by their service.