Today represents Americans’ opportunity — and, indeed, our duty — to stand and salute those who have served in this nation’s military. They are our neighbors, our co-workers, and people we simply pass on the street, and they have helped to defend the United States and the ideals she purports to uphold.
While Veterans Day officially falls on Saturday this year, the holiday is being recognized today. Although many of us will embrace the opportunity for a day off from work, it is incumbent to recall the meaning of the occasion and to honor the efforts of more than 20 million living Americans who have worn the uniform of the United States — including about 1.3 million active personnel and 800,000 reserves. As President Kennedy is credited with saying, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
Indeed. As veterans have demonstrated in times of both war and peace, actions speak louder than words. And this nation’s obligation to support those who have served calls for more than words and more than a single day of acknowledgement each year.
That has resonance in Washington, which contains one of the nation’s highest percentages of veterans. About 9 percent of the state’s residents have served in the military, a number equaled by several states but surpassed only by Alaska, Montana, Virginia and Maine. Part of that is due to the presence of Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, an amalgamation of an Army base and an Air Force base that is the nation’s fourth-largest military installation.
Of course, Clark County has a long military connection of its own, with Vancouver Barracks serving generations of soldiers starting in 1849. During World War II, when Vancouver served as a staging area for soldiers embarking through Seattle, the barracks had room for more than 7,000 enlisted personnel at a time.
All of that is significant as we acknowledge Veterans Day and offer thanks for the people who have selflessly served in the United States military. Fixed on Nov. 11 — the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I — the holiday is not to be confused with Memorial Day, a commemoration each May in honor of those who died while in military service.
Upon the founding of Armistice Day in 1919 — it became Veterans Day in 1954 — President Woodrow Wilson said: “To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both 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 nations.”
World War I had been dubbed “the war to end all wars.” If only that were true. Instead, the United States has gone to war against tyrants and despots many times over the past 100 years, calling upon brave men and women to defend this nation’s interests and those of our allies. Even in times of peace, our military remains a necessary citadel against the threats of a dangerous world.
And so, today — and tomorrow — we say thanks, knowing we could never adequately repay those who have demonstrated valor in defending this nation. Pride in the men and women of the military is one thing that continues to unite most Americans, even during divisive times. We celebrate that unity today as we salute the veterans of the United States.