As the fight continues to prevent the eroding of the very values our country was founded upon, it is time to remember our veterans who fought so hard to preserve those very same values in the past. November 11 is Veterans’ Day, the day each year we stop to honor all of the veterans of our country’s wars, past and present. It is a day to remind us of the importance of appreciating the sacrifice each veteran has made for all of us. And hopefully to appreciate each day of the year those who continue to make that same sacrifice today.
On Veterans’ Day each year, it is the duty of our grandparents’ generation, great and grand, to as Vladmir Nabokov said “Speak Memory.” A time for grandparents to sit down with their grandchildren and share with them stories of their service. It is also a fast fading chance to pass on to grandchildren a personal connection of the true meaning of November 11, telling them memories of your veteran fathers and grandfathers.
We need to remember that November 11 is not just any day chosen to honor our veterans. The significance of this date must be recalled so it will not be forgotten. Veterans’ Day was set on Armistice Day, the day commemorating the end of World War I in 1918. “The Great War” was over, it’s ending bringing with it the hope it would be the war to end all wars, leading to peace throughout the world.
In President Woodrow Wilson’s Proclamation of Armistice Day in November of 1919 he said, “To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those how died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”
This day was hoped to mark the ending of the last war, but sadly it was not. In 1954, after World War II and the “war” in Korea had ended, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the Veterans Day Proclamation. “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose.”
This year the important duty of remembering our veteran fathers and grandfathers of WW I has been passed to the grandparents of this country. The last veteran voice of that war, Frank Buckles at the age of 109, was silenced in March of this year. It now up to the grandparent generation to take up his cause of passing down the memories of our fathers and what they fought for: they are no longer with us to speak their own.
Buckles spent his last years with one purpose, a World War I memorial dedicated to all those Americans who served in the Great War. He was the final voice of the nearly 5 million Americans who served during that war, 116,516 of whom died in defense of our democracy. Due to the efforts of Frank Buckles, his fellow WWI soldiers will not be forgotten. Today, November 10, 2011 the restoration of the DC War Memorial is being rededicated as the national World War I Memorial. He represented his brethren well.
According to the Veteran’s Administration of the 16 million who served our nation in WWII, we are still lucky enough to have 1.7 million veterans left among us: but be aware they are leaving us at a rate of 740 every day. Of the 5 million veterans who served in the Korea “War”, only 1.2 million are still alive; and of the 2.7million of those who served in Vietnam, only 900,000 are still with us. Joining them since 9/11 2 million of our sons and daughters have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 1951 in an address to a joint session of Congress, General Douglas Macarthur uttered these words, “Old soldiers never die they just fade away.” Maybe we should all take this not as a statement but as a challenge.
Grandparents, our duty is clear. Spend time with those who are still with us, listen to their memories and let them share what it means to them to be a veteran of this great country. These are memories that those who served never forget; they stay with them until their dying day. Some of those veterans may only feel comfortable sharing their memories with others with memories like their own: so we must be sensitive. But it might be just the time to encourage them to put pen to papers, or record their memories on computer or film so that others may benefit from their insight in the future.
Encourage your grandchildren to sit down with their veteran parents and grandparent to discuss with them what it was like when they served. Looking at old pictures and pouring over maps together of where they were and how it felt to serve their country might be a rewarding experience for everyone in the family: a wonderful time to share a prayer for the end of all wars in the future. Don’t leave these memories unheard. Accept the challenge to speak out and keep memories of the veterans of each generation from fading away.