In 1918, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, World War I – “The War to End All Wars” – officially came to a close. Nations around the world celebrated the end of the worst conflict the globe had ever seen by observing November 11th as Armistice Day.
In the years following World War I, it became all too clear that the War to End All Wars had done no such thing. Recognizing that armed conflict remained a part of life on earth, in 1947, Raymond Weeks, an Alabama Navy veteran of World War II, decided to organize a celebration of all veterans on Armistice day, declaring it National Veterans Day.
Seven years later, Weeks’ efforts became a new federal holiday when President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill declaring that henceforth, November 11th would be observed as Veterans Day rather than Armistice Day. Today, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we celebrate every American who has raised his or her right hand to swear an oath of service to our country.
The United States military has the unique distinction of being an all-volunteer force. That means that every service member who has served since the end of the Vietnam War has made a conscious decision to risk life and limb in order to confront the dangers that threaten the United States and to help those in need. American men and women serve around the world, responding to natural disasters, combating oppressive regimes, and fighting to protect our way of life.
On Veterans Day, we must remember the cost of that selflessness. Many veterans have been physically wounded, and countless more bear the unseen scars of mental trauma. Veterans have a higher risk of substance use disorder and suicide compared Americans who have not served. While they may have left active service, there are things that will never leave them.
Please take a moment today to honor the brave Americans willing to risk all for that which they love. Celebrate the men and women of all generations who have the courage to run towards the sound of chaos, so that others may run the other way. And remember the words of President Ronald Reagan, “Freedom is a fragile thing, and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by way or inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people.”