What better day could there be than Veterans Day, November 11, to break ground for a memorial to the most momentous war in American history?
A war waged on the unprecedented scale of World War II and for such high stakes demands permanent remembrance in the form of a national memorial. Fifty-five years after the last guns fell silent, we shall have that memorial. The official ceremony on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. this year will magnify the solemnity of what is always a day of reflection, sadness, and gratitude. There will be similar ceremonies in nearly every city, village, and town in America that day.
The speakers at the Washington groundbreaking ceremonies will include former Senator Bob Dole, who was severely disabled during the war. Tom Hanks, who has done so much to honor World War II veterans following his starring role in `’Saving Private Ryan,” is also scheduled to speak. Retired Archbishop Phil Hannan of New Orleans, a chaplain with the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II, will give the Invocation. Participants in the actual ground-breaking ceremony will include 101-year old Gold Star Mother Winifred Lancy, whose son died on his 25th bombing mission, and World War II veterans from all branches of the service. Between 100 and 200 school children from across the country who raised money on their own for the monument will participate.
No war took more lives, consumed more resources or engaged the homefront more completely than World War II. VE Day and VJ :Day brought unforgettable outbursts of joy and relief. But not even that victory was permanent. The war to defeat one tyrant left another in control of Eastern and Central Europe. Only recently has the strength and vigilance of another generation of veterans convinced that tyrant’s heirs to give up the old dream of world domination. We are not the only people with a debt of gratitude to America’s veterans.
Let no one outdo us in giving thanks. Let us first pause to consider what we owe every son and every daughter who ever served their country and preserved our freedom.
America’s military has evolved somewhat over the years. For roughly a quarter of a century, ours has been an all-volunteer military. When properly equipped and properly led, that volunteer military has been the best in the world, bar none. I have not always agreed with the way that military has been led and equipped, but on one thing there can be no disagreement — our veterans deserve our deepest gratitude. They deserve it not only on Veterans Day, but every day.
Recruiters tell us the typical recruit of today is, among other things, quite patriotic. They enter the service with eyes wide open, fully aware of the sacrifices and hardships awaiting them, but still anxious to serve and protect their country.
Those sacrifices and hardships are real, even when they don’t include life-threatening situations. They include loneliness, the absence of comforts taken for granted, long hours, and watching civilian peers get head starts in their careers. Millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines served at risk to their lives, and more than one million of those lives were lost.
Many of the survivors did not go home in one piece. I have talked to veterans who left the field of battle as triple amputees or quadriplegics, blinded, disfigured, and traumatized by what they saw and experienced. The overwhelming majority of those heroes came home and overcame their disabilities to become productive citizens. They raised families, picked up delayed careers, and enriched their communities with the skills and disciplines learned in uniform. They set the standard for those who served after them. The same sense of duty exists in today’s military personnel. I’ve been struck by the effort of one of them to honor his predecessors. Keith Jackson of Texas is a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army. His sense of gratitude to his predecessors moved him to create a web page (http://vetday.homestead.com/index.html) with the bold headline “When was the last time you Thanked a Vet?”
“This Veterans Day I challenge everyone to thank a Veteran or a Military member,” SFC Jackson states, inviting web surfers to sign his “guest book” and send it to family and friends.
“If You Enjoy Your Freedom Thank A Vet,” SFC Jackson says, elsewhere urging us to show veterans that “we care and appreciate what they have and are doing for us and our Great Country.”
I salute SFC Jackson and second his call to express our collective gratitude to military veterans. If the fraternity of veterans is getting smaller, it’s also getting older.
There was an element of urgency in starting the World War II Memorial. There are more than a thousand fewer veterans from that war every day. Soon there will fewer than five million of the more than 16 million who served in that war. Most World War II veterans are in their eighties. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to thank them while we still can?
Don’t forget to include all other veterans, too. The man or woman down the street who delivers your mail, fixes your car, figures your tax returns, or fills your prescription may have sacrificed several years to protect things you take for granted. Why not take a moment to say thank you? You can do it personally. You could attend parades and picnics. You can lay a wreath at a gravesite. Do what you can. It means more than you can imagine to individual veterans. November 11 is their day. It is the day we celebrate the guardians of our freedoms.
By Rep. Bob Stump (R-AZ)
Chairman House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs