This glorious day has come upon us once again, with our hopes still tattered as a shrapnel-shredded flag and our gratitude still fresh as the blood spilled this week on the field of battle.
Veterans Day marks the end of World War I, a conflict so mindless, cataclysmic and tragic that its survivors called it “The War to End All Wars.”
The stubborn refusal of our brilliantly foolish species to learn the lessons in blood offered by The War to End All Wars led directly to World War II.
We gather on this day to commemorate the sacrifices of this nation’s 21 million living veterans who have served this country with honor in a variety of conflicts.
Their ranks include 1.6 million women, 2.4 million blacks, 1.2 million Hispanics, 156,000 Native Americans and 265,000 Asian-Americans. Almost half are older than 65, but 1.7 million are younger than 35.
Some 7.6 million served during the Vietnam War, 4.8 million during the Gulf War, 2.1 million during World War II. Some 5.5 million stood their post in time of peace.
Many served in more than one war — including an astonishing 54,000 who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The current generation of active veterans have done heroic service, many returning three or four times to the unpredictable battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But these are only statistics.
Consider the case of Dakota Meyer, awarded the Medal of Honor in Afghanistan. He was operating a security checkpoint when his radio crackled with news that members of his team training two Afghan National Army platoons were trapped in an ambush sprung by overwhelming enemy forces.
Meyer, a Marine, and a driver jumped into a truck outfitted with a machine gun and drove repeatedly into the middle of the ambush. They evacuated two dozen of the Afghan soldiers in their first two trips into the ambush. When the machine gun on the truck broke down, they commandeered another truck and rushed once more into heavy fire. All told, he went back six times to rescue his team members in the course of a six-hour battle.
We could go on. Such uncommon heroism sometimes seems commonplace among the men and women who have served this nation, often at a terrible cost.
Make no mistake about the cost and our sacred obligation to those who have served without question.
The miracles of battlefield medicine have saved thousands of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that has also produced a generation of soldiers living with injuries that would have killed them in any other war. The Department of Veterans Affairs now spends more than $90 billion annually to provide benefits to veterans and employs more than 300,000 people at the VA hospitals alone.
One study estimated it will cost $1 trillion to provide medical and other benefits to the veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of the next 30 to 40 years.
We cannot adequately honor on any single day the service of the 21 million Americans who took an oath that required them to risk their lives at a moment’s notice — and give up basic freedoms to protect those same liberties for the rest of us.
We can only mumble our gratitude and pledge we will bind their wounds, honor their courage and keep our end of the bargain they have so honorably fulfilled.
In Afghanistan, 1,140 U.S. soldiers have died and 3,420 have suffered serious injury. In Iraq, 4,414 have died and 31,882 have suffered serious injury.
So let us insist that those politicians shall not ask lightly for such sacrifice — nor squander the heedless, unreasoning courage of men like Dakota Meyer.
The War to End All Wars claimed 35 million lives, including 15 million battle deaths. It left 20 million wounded. Historians still cannot account for the blunders and blindness that unleashed a war no one really wanted, which unleashed only ruin and dismay — even among the victors.
Worse yet, the blind and vengeful peace succeeded only in setting the stage for the Second World War, which caused the death of 60 million people — about 2.5 percent of the world’s population at the time.
So attend the services today. Personally thank every veteran you know. Insist that the nation honor its commitments to those veterans.
Then stand to your own post as a citizen, to ensure such sacrifice and service shall never be offered up in vain.