HONOR ALL WHO SERVE
Veterans Day holiday – formerly known as Armistice Day (so designated after “The Great War” or World War 1 in 1918) – was signed into being on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. It was renamed Veterans Day in 1954 years after the conclusion of the other “great war”, World War II. This day celebrates the commitment and service provided by members of the military.
Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
This is not the same holiday as “Memorial Day” (also known as “Decoration Day”) which is a federal holiday in the US for mourning the U.S. military personnel who have fought and died while serving in the US armed forces. It is observed on the last Monday of May.
I remember sitting in Harvard’s Memorial Church in the early 1970s reading the names of the fallen dead carved into the walls around me. (Yes, I’m blurring the lines between Veterans Day and Memorial Day here.) It was one thing for me to remember their names, but wasn’t it God’s job to have come through for them to save their lives? Why hadn’t He/They? How was my remembering them now going to do them any good?
Over the decades it dawned on me – and it continues to dawn – that mortal life is not (paradoxically) the “be all and end all of Life”. My remembering their names helps keep them tied to our troubled, mortal world making the memory of them long outlast their years on earth.
But beyond that, the noble paradox is that these people’s mortal lives are over (as mine will eventually be) but as spirits they – and we – live on eternally, free from the restrictions of the planet’s tumultuous brutality.
My father served in WW2 but was stationed in Texas, out of harm’s way … and bored to tears. I have seen family pictures of previous generations dressed in military uniforms for the US and for their countries of origin. As a teenager I attended the funeral of a young second cousin who was killed in the War in Vietnam. My teenage and college years spent in New England were marinated in protests songs of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
One vivid lyric I recall is Country Joe and the Fish’s anthem “The I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag”‘ from late 1968. It’s dark humor and obvious dissatisfaction with the then current US policies concerning the Vietnam war captured for me the calamity that war – any war, but especially that one – exacts on participants.
The song’s chorus went:
And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me I don’t give a d*mn
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it’s five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopie! We’re all gonna die!
Because people my age were soldiers and nightly news kept a tally of the dead, life felt both so precious and very precarious. Many age-mates served in the Vietnam war. Many of the ones who came home alive were not quite the same anymore – emotionally traumatized and often addicted.
I am in awe of and deeply grateful to those who serve their country’s noblest causes – those who enlist, who are conscripted, who make careers in military service with worthy motives Our communal debt to those who serve in the armed forces is beyond words.
My heart aches for those – like many Russian men today without training or a devotion to their leader’s vicious impulses – whose futures seem grim.
Thank you, veterans. Whether you were bored to tears in Texas or scared to death in Vietnam or protecting lands, territories, and healthy philosophies of life anywhere on our weary, worried planet, thank you. Thank you for your sacrifices and our fragile freedoms.