Today is Veterans Day

Today, November 11, is Veterans Day, a time to honor those who have served our nation in a way that many of us never have and never would. May God bless those who serve in place of – and on behalf of – those of us who do not.


Those millions who have risked their lives throughout the birth of and existence of the United States of America from the first patriots of 1775 to Veterans Day 2009 have selflessly guarded our precious freedoms not by the pen or in elite debate, but by the unmatched force of the sword.


There is a bumper sticker that says ‘If You Love Your Freedom, Thank a Vet’. And while some may dismiss it as a passing slogan, it is not. It is an absolute and unequivocal truth. We owe our veterans dearly for our cherished independence through which we can pursue our lives, liberties and happiness as guaranteed in our founding documents.


Just think of those who have served. They gave up a comfortable and predictable life for one that could end in an instant.  They have been moved around the nation and the world, have served in dangerous war zones, witnessed tragedy that most of us could never tolerate, faced adversity with conviction, and then returned to our American bosom without complaint, usually blending seamlessly and unheralded back into everyday life.


And it is what is inside them that makes them who they are. They do not seek out our admiration because they are strong and confident and assured within themselves. They do not seek out recognition because they respect themselves, and that is all that is needed. Yet they would be the first to admit their weaknesses and to put their faith in a higher power when their own certainties are strained.


Today our American military is a unified, brave and dependable entity. Is it perfect? No. That is not possible. But it is as close to perfect as we could ever hope.


From the American Revolution to World War I to World War II, to the soldiers of Korea and Vietnam, of Iraq and Afghanistan, from the battlefield infantry to the fearless pilots in the air to the mechanics on the ground, from the special ops daredevils to the top brass in Washington, every veteran knows what it means to put your life on the line for your fellow countryman. Because they all have done it with pride.


Many of us never even think about what our freedom means. We are too busy pursuing our lives, perhaps enmeshed in our own personal struggles, seeking out that which is better, stronger, more durable. Yet without the selfless disciplines of the US armed forces over the centuries, we would have nothing to show, to say or to hope for.


Who are our veterans? They are just like you and me. Except that they have that special glint that says that “I am just like you, but at the same time, well, dammit, I am extraordinary.” Because they are. From the ground up they are different. They have been taught, cajoled and disciplined into the greatest fighting force ever known. Whether on the front lines, or behind the scenes, each veteran has been a crucial member of a brotherhood that is like no other that the world has known.


Today, while we Americans may see our nation adrift and in crisis, we should look back and be ever grateful for what we have been given thanks to centuries of selfless service by our military’s veterans. And our current woes shall pass because we have known much worse. Because the world is in most ways more peaceful today – and certainly more democratic – that it ever has been in history.


And our US military has been a key player in spreading the independence and freedom for which our Founders set our own course. Because we have used our military as a global force for good, not a vehicle for conquest. And so our veterans deserve credit for helping to spread promise around the globe, not to do what armies have done throughout history – usurped land, power and freedom from innocent peoples.


Just think of our patriot generals from George Washington to Ulysses Grant to Dwight Eisenhower to Norman Schwarzkopf to David Petraeus, each serving in his own time to his own cause. But these good leaders would amount to nothing without those millions of soldiers who have operated under them in some of the most difficult circumstances ever, with little or no recognition from the public at large except maybe a pat on the back from friends and family. Today we seek to enlarge that circle of admirers.


That is why it is important to thank those veterans who have served, wherever you find them. Honor, sacrifice, discipline, humility… these are the hallmarks of America’s veterans, members emeritus of the world’s most just fighting force ever. We all must be sure to attend Veterans Day ceremonies to pay tribute to those who have made our wonderful lives possible. It is the least we can do in exchange for all that they have done for us.