The occasion is thick with irony.
Today, as our nation observes Veterans Day, we honor those who have served in the armed forces, those who have been trained to fight in defense of our country. Yet it is an observance that originated as a celebration of peace.
Begun on Nov. 11, 1919, to commemorate the first anniversary of the agreement that ended World War I (originally considered The War to End All Wars), the observance initially was known as “Armistice Day.” Congress passed a resolution making it an annual observation in 1936, and President Eisenhower signed legislation in 1954 changing the name to Veterans Day and extending the honor to those who served in all American wars, not just World War I. It is a worthy plaudit. As Elmer Davis — director of the Office of War Information during World War II — once said, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”
With that in mind, we honor those who have served bravely. While decisions made by the United States government regarding foreign conflicts often can be questioned, we would never doubt the nobility or dedication of those who have served. Whether in time of war or time of peace, we offer our admiration and thanks for those who have been willing to sacrifice for their country.
And that brings up one of the most key elements of Veterans Day. It is an opportunity to say “thanks,” and to do so in person — a contrast to the solemnity of Memorial Day. At a quick glance, it is easy to confuse the holiday near the end of May with the one that falls on Nov. 11. Both honor members of the armed services and provide an occasion to be grateful for those who have defended our nation’s borders and ideals.
But Memorial Day honors those who have died in defense of their country. A worthy holiday, indeed, but a somber one. It is an opportunity to give thanks through our tears.
On the other hand, Veterans Day acknowledges this country’s 22 million living military veterans. The largest chunk of that number is the 7.6 million who served during the time of the Vietnam War, according to the American Community Survey. The survey also tells us that, in 2010, about 9 million veterans were 65 or older, and roughly 2.1 million of those served during World War II.
Those World War II veterans are the heroes who are foremost in our minds as we observe another Veterans Day. They defeated imperialistic powers bent upon world domination, then returned home to fuel one of the greatest eras of prosperity in our nation’s history. They have been dubbed “The Greatest Generation,” an honorific as accurate as it is profound.
And we are grateful to still have the opportunity to thank many of them in person. Among the observances scheduled for today in Clark County:
• A service hosted by the City of Vancouver recognizing local veterans, 11 a.m. today at Vancouver Barracks Cemetery.
• A community lunch at 11:30 a.m. today at Pearson Air Museum, featuring a pair of eagles from the Wildlife Images Rehabilitation Center in Grants Pass, Ore. Cost: $30.
• A flag exchange from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Mallard Landing Assisted Living Community, 813 SE Clark Ave., Battle Ground. American flags that are worn may be exchanged for new ones.
• The new Armed Forces Reserve Center in Orchards (15005 N.E. 65th St.) will be dedicated at 2 p.m.
Or you might choose to observe Veterans Day privately or with family and friends. Either way, we urge all residents to personally thank veterans they know, and to be grateful for the times of peace they helped forge through their sacrifice.