Veterans Day: 'Find ways to express our gratitude for veterans'|
Posted 11/4/2010 Updated 11/4/2010
Commentary by Col. Mike Hornitschek
375th Air Mobility Wing Commander
11/4/2010 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- 11.11.11. These numbers have significant meaning for most of us because we recognize it immediately as the time, date and month that marked the end of World War I.
For those living 92 years ago, it meant an immediate end to a global conflict and hope for a future filled with negotiations, not battle.
However, as America was compelled to respond to even greater conflicts, Veterans Day evolved into a day where our nation formally honors its military veterans for the contributions they made--and still do--in preserving freedom here and around the globe.
Today more than 1.4 million men and women serve on active duty in the United States Armed Forces with more than 800,000 Guardsmen and Reservists. In addition, 23 million veterans serve our country in the civilian work force. Veterans Day gives us a chance to salute these valued citizen-soldiers from the newest recruit to the oldest surviving veteran, who, by the way, is 109-year-old Frank Buckles of Charles Town, W. Va.
He was born in 1901 and as a 16-year-old was able to convince the Army that he was old enough to join their ranks in 1917--when America entered WWI. The Army sent him to Britain where he drove ambulances for wounded soldiers, and later to France where he escorted enemy Prisoners of War.
After the Armistice and his discharge, he returned to his family's cattle farm for a short time. A few decades later, he was in the Philippines as a civilian where we worked for a shipping company. Soon after the Pearl Harbor attack, he was taken and held as a POW and held for 39 months in Manila, eating his meals out of a single tin cup that he still has today.
Since achieving fame for being one of only three surviving allied veterans from the "Great War," he has used that to bring attention to the WWI Memorial to ensure its restoration and repair, and for it to be re-dedicated as a national memorial.
In reports he credits his longevity to reading and exercising daily--something he did during his POW days even though he weighed less than 100 pounds and suffered from beriberi. I am sure his optimistic outlook and positive energy are other attributes not only for a long life, but for a life well lived.
He's a living link to our past and a way for us to focus on those who have gone before. Those days were very different for our military members, and today we honor them and a new generation of men and women who are defending our freedom.
Since 9/11, our Armed Forces have brought down tyrants, liberated two nations and have helped bring freedom to more than 50 million people. In a speech last year, President Obama reflected that for many veterans, [this day] is another day "in harm's way. For families, it's another day to feel the absence of a loved one, and the concern for their safety. For our wounded warriors, it's another day of slow and arduous recovery..."
He continued by saying that we mark this day as a day to celebrate not the victory of war, but rather those who made victory possible. "It's a day we keep in our minds the brave men and women of this young nation--generations of them--who above all else believed in and fought for a set of ideals. Because they did, our country still stands; our founding principles still shine; nations around the world that once knew nothing but fear now know the blessings of freedom."
Whether we publicly celebrate with parades and events or privately share our support, I do encourage us to find ways to express our gratitude for veterans, past and present. I wish to express gratitude for my fellow servicemembers for their dedication to duty and ability to exceed expectations for our nation. I also express deep gratitude for those who've gone before, who laid the foundations of this great country and who've kept it intact these past two centuries because of their exceptional leadership and personal sacrifice.