Coolidge’s words encapsulate Veterans Day perfectly. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines face daily challenges that we will never encounter. When most of us go to work, we leave our house, we do our job and we come home.
It is different for those who serve. Every day they report for work, they put themselves at risk: for deployment, for permanent disability and death. And they do it all for us. They do it so that we may remain free, prosperous and safe.
The percentage of Americans with a direct connection to the military is at an all-time low. During the Vietnam War 2.7 million men were drafted. They came from almost every segment of society and were geographically diverse. Today, less than one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. population is in the armed services today – the lowest rate since World War II.
I cite these facts not to belittle those of us who have not served but to remind everyone of the invisible sacrifices made every day on our behalf by people we will never meet and never know.
Because most of us no longer have the direct connections to those who serve, Veterans Day is more important now than it ever has been.
Our all-volunteer force is a blessing. It removes the intense pain associated with the military life from the overwhelming majority of American families. The long absences, the loss of life and limb – these are things most of us don’t have to deal with.
The burdens and costs of freedom have been shifted to a select few. That is what Veterans Day is for – to thank those few who carry the burden for the many.
The origins of Veterans Day reveal a deep appreciation for the costs of war and the value of peace. While the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919 formally ending World War I, the fighting had ceased earlier. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – Nov. 11, 1918 – an armistice ended the hostilities between the Allied and German forces. Armistice Day became a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I and its veterans.
In 1954, after World War II and the Korean War, Congress formally changed the word Armistice to Veterans. And Veterans Day became officially a day to honor all American veterans of all our wars.
This day is a time to celebrate the peace, freedom and prosperity that we enjoy and to honor those who gave us this gift.
While our debt to our Veterans can never be repaid, the one thing we can do is dedicate ourselves to never squandering what has been provided.
As President Ronald Reagan once said, “Veterans know better than anyone else the price of freedom, for they’ve suffered the scars of war. We can offer them no better tribute than to protect what they have won for us. That is our duty. They have never let America down. We will not let them down.”
Let us all today reaffirm these words and thank our veterans and their families for shouldering the weight of our freedom.
Randy McNally is lieutenant governor of Tennessee.