Today marks the celebration of Veterans Day in America. Today is the day we set aside to honor those that served in our military. Regardless of branch of service, in peacetime or conflict, we honor those that put aside their own self-interests and stood guard over our great nation.
The road to today’s “celebration” was not easy for us as a nation, nor for those we honor. As a nation, the fate of our existence overwhelmingly rests with the incredible men and women that recited the simple oath that starts with the words “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will…,” and then stood firm to honor their pledge to our nation. But what does it all mean? What should each of us be thinking about on this and every Veterans Day?
Nov. 11 is a day that started as “Armistice Day,” and is still known around the world as “Remembrance Day.” One hundred years removed from the events of the “War to end all wars,” the evolution of what we celebrate on Nov. 11, is a day born out of the end of one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, World War I. In many ways, World War I was the first “modern war,” which means mankind invented more lethal ways of killing. Sadly, our military leaders at the time were too eager in using these new weapons, while at the same time using outdated tactics that would result in the absolute slaughter of those that served.
During the bloodiest battle of World War I, the Battle of Somme, more than 1.2 million French, British and German troops would die. On the first day alone, more than 57,000 British soldiers would be wounded or killed. And although American troops would be “late to the fight,” 400,000 American troops would join the World War I conflict, and it is estimated that 300,000 of them would be killed or listed as causalities due to all causes related to the war.
What started as the “Great War,” had to be renamed when the “next Great War” came along (World War II). More than 40 million people would die or would find themselves casualties for what many historians would say was a war that should not have been fought. World War I may not have been the “bloodiest conflict,” but World War I in many ways would be the first conflict in which America would face the “veterans question.” What do we owe those that served on our behalf? What is our obligation to our veterans? Clearly, we owe them something, and as much as those that served appreciate a well-intended “thank you,” that is not enough. Not by a long shot.
In 1932, thousands of World War I veterans marched on Washington, D.C. requesting early relief payments from funds earmarked by Congress in a piece of legislation known as the Bonus Act. At the height of the Great Depression, and with staggering unemployment, the veterans were desperate. All sides could have handled the situation better, but the final resolution was one of the most unfortunate actions committed by our country.
Mishandled at every step, eventually U.S. troops were ordered to advance on their brothers, those veterans that served during World War I. Having survived the horrors of the war, and forced into action by desperate times, these veterans did something most veterans will not do, speak up and ask for help. It is this point that brings us to Veterans Day.
The years after World War I also demonstrated our nation did not have a plan to effectively and humanely deal with large groups of veterans returning home. Today, many of our past shortcomings remain with us still. We set aside one day a year to honor our veterans, when in truth many require our attention every day. Not a handout, but a hand up.
It is not my intention to relitigate the events of World War I or the tragic actions in 1932. By remembering the lineage of Nov. 11, the date that marked the end of a war, and all the events since that first Armistice Day, it is my hope to remind all of us the price our vets have paid during their service, and the struggles some endure after their time in the military.
Unfortunately, we as a nation have not responded with the complete compassion and respect our veterans have not only earned, but require.
With Armistice Day, the world found peace. In Remembrance Day, those that were lost are honored. With Veterans Day, it is our turn to ask those that served if there is anything we can do for them. Let us not wait for the veteran to ask for our help, let us go to them and extend a helping hand, so that they know they are not forgotten.
If you know of a veteran in need, regardless of the situation, and are not sure where to turn, I encourage you to reach out to a wonderful organization called Veteran’s Count – NH at vetscount.org/nh/contact or by calling (603) 315-4354 or (800) 273-8255.
Happy Veterans Day and thank you for your service.