The very first ones vowed to be ready to fight at a minute's notice. They got that notice on a cold April morning in 1775. In the ensuing 232 years, millions of men and women have answered that same call. For most, the call did not come from a frantic horseman riding down a dusty New England lane, but the need and the urgency were the same. For some it came in the form of a public plea, for others a newspaper headline; it might have come from Uncle Sam pointing a stern finger in a recruiting poster. It might have come from a radio broadcast interrupting Sunday dinner or a letter offering greetings from the President of the United States - or a television broadcast originating in the rubble of the Pentagon or the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
No matter where the call to arms originated, the important thing today is that throughout our nation's history, when that call went out, our sons and daughters answered - and thankfully for the rest of us, the answer for the vast majority was a resounding yes.
We need to acknowledge a thing or two today. For starters, we need to acknowledge that we are a great country and we need to stop apologizing to the world for our greatness. We are not without flaws. I readily admit that. But we are a great country, nonetheless, and one with unparalleled opportunity and freedom. The late Walt Disney once said of this country, "In America, if you can dream it, you can achieve it." And you can. We need to remember that.
We also need to acknowledge the fact that every liberty we enjoy, every liberty we take for granted, was purchased with the blood of our veterans. Every freedom and every opportunity and every blessing we have has been watched over and protected, throughout our history and on this very day, by our nation's armed forces.
Veterans. They are men and women, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles and friends and relatives. They are rich and poor and tall and short and fat and skinny. They are like America in that they come in all shapes and sizes and colors and ethnicities. They are the kid down the street who used to knock his baseball into your flower bed and the stranger from 3,000 miles away who has left the comfort of his home to serve his country - our country, mine and yours - and to protect our rights to live free and dream dreams and pursue happiness wherever we think we might find it.
They have served in places with familiar names like Valley Forge and Saratoga and Yorktown and in places with names that wouldn't be quite so familiar if not for their service and their sacrifice. Names like Chickamauga and Chancellorsville and Malvern Hill. And places on foreign shores, like the Argonne Forest and Guadalcanal; foreign places with Americanized names like Utah Beach and Pork Chop Hill. They have served on every continent and fought in wars that were popular and unpopular - and they have served in time of peace, when the danger was not as imminent but never absent - and the loneliness, for the soldiers and for those they left behind, was just as strong.
Tomorrow is Nov. 11. Veteran's Day. Originally, this date was set aside to honor those who served in World War I. That was supposed to be the war to end all wars. It didn't quite work out that way. Now it is the day set aside to honor all of our nation's veterans. There are almost 25 million still living - four of those living vets actually fought in World War I, according to the Department of Defense.
Ten million of them are over the age of 65. Almost 3 million fought in World War II, but we are losing those folks at an alarming rate. There are almost 3 million Korean War veterans still living and almost 7 million Vietnam era vets. Many of those came home and resumed their lives without ever receiving the thanks of a grateful nation.
And there are those who fought in the Gulf War and those who have taken part in the current Global War on Terror and, as I said, those who served in time of peace - and were in great part responsible for assuring that peace.
Veterans. They are all around us. They are your friends and neighbors. They will be sitting in your churches tomorrow and eating beside you in restaurants and sharing the crowded highways with you.
Make it a point to seek them out. Find out who they are. And tell them thank you.
Isn't that the least we can do after all they have done for us?
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.