My father was living in LaGrange in November of 1918. I heard him tell the story over and over and over. He was 7, and in bed with the flu. This was a serious strain of flu, understand. There was a worldwide flu pandemic in 1918 that killed as many as 100 million people worldwide — 5 percent of the world’s population.
Delirious with fever, he was convinced that he had died and was hearing the bells of heaven tolling to welcome him to his eternal home — although at 7 he probably didn’t understand so much about eternity. In reality, he was hearing all of the church bells in LaGrange pealing to recognize the Armistice between Germany and America, Great Britain and their allies. The Great War — the “War to end war” was over and Nov. 11 would forever be recognized as Armistice Day. We would wear poppies on our clothing to honor those who fought to make the world safe for democracy.
It didn’t work out that way, of course. We won the war but mangled the peace and less than a generation later we were sending our sons to distant battlefields again — this time in an effort to prevent the world from being taken over by mad men. Once again we helped to save the world and Armistice Day became Veterans Day — commemorated to honor all the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces.
To quote Honest Abe, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we do this, however, in a larger sense … ”
Yes. In a larger sense, we cannot do justice to our veterans simply by setting aside one day a year upon which to honor them, but it is at least a start.
Think about what our veterans have been through. Whether they volunteered or were drafted, whether they are men or women, whether they served during time of war or time of peace, they left the comforts of home and left their loved ones — mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, friends and relatives—and became a part of something much larger than themselves. They gave up their individual rights to wear the uniform of a particular branch of service in order that our individual rights would be protected.
I have lived a blessed and charmed life. I have never known the sadness and loneliness of being away from home on a major holiday. I have never endured the physical and mental anguish of basic military training. I have never been tested in the furnace of warfare or had to spend long periods of time away from my home and loved ones.
I have never been asked to risk my life in an unfamiliar land for the sake of keeping my country safe. I have talked a lot and taught a lot about the Constitution and about upholding and defending it against all enemies, foreign and domestic, but I have never been asked to take up arms to do so.
But our veterans have. Each and every one. It is not original with me, but it is certainly true. No minister ever gave us freedom of religion. No politician or statesman ever gave us the right to vote and no newspaper editor gave us freedom of the press, nor did any orator give us freedom of speech. All of the freedoms that we take so much for granted were purchased at great sacrifice by the service, and sometimes the lives, of our veterans.
Someone said that war never solved anything, except for “ending slavery, fascism, Nazism, communism and creating the United States.” Politicians don’t fight wars. Veterans do. They also prevent wars by standing in steadfast readiness. Nobody treasures peace as much as the soldier. Believe me on that one.
So tomorrow is Veterans Day. There will be parades and speeches made to crowds that are not nearly large enough. Some restaurants will serve free meals to those who served, which is a very nice thing. Hopefully more people than normal will remember to fly their flags. But what can we do individually?
Individually we can offer a heartfelt thank you to our friends and acquaintances that served. More importantly, we can make a vow to ourselves that we will pay attention and take part in the democratic process and make sure we elect public servants that will maintain the work that “those who struggled here have thus far so nobly advanced,” so that “government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”
After all, veterans provided that in the first place, don’t you know.