November 11, 2005

Veterans Day — Duty, Honor, Country

“If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” –Thomas Paine

Today is Veterans Day. It is appropriate that 11 November also commemorates the signing of the Mayflower Compact in 1620. That simple document, after all, is the taproot of a great nation; a shining beacon of liberty which owes its very existence to American veterans.

The Defense Department recently presented us with a staggering bill for our cherished freedom: Since the American Revolution, nearly 1.2-million members of our fighting forces have died while in service to our country. Not to be forgotten are the 1.4 million who were wounded during that time. The numbers, of course, offer no reckoning of the inestimable value of these Patriots’ lives or the sacrifices borne by their families, but we do know that their sacrifices defended a most precious gift – a gift of liberty that we cherish to this day.

On 11 November 1921, an unknown American soldier from World War I was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, in recognition of WWI veterans and in conjunction with the cessation of hostilities at 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918 – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. This was President Warren Harding’s request: “All … citizens … indulge in a period of silent thanks to God for these … valorous lives and of supplication for His Divine mercy … on our beloved country.”

Inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are the words, “Here lies in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” That day was known as Armistice Day until 1954, when Congress, wanting to recognize the sacrifice of veterans since WWI, proposed to name it Veterans Day. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, former Supreme Commander in WWII, signed the legislation.

To honor those Patriots of the ultimate sacrifice, an Army honor guard from the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) keeps a day-and-night vigil at Arlington. At 11 a.m. today, a combined color guard representing all military service branches will execute “Present Arms” at the tomb. The President will then lay a wreath. This will be followed by “Taps.”

It is a fitting place and a focal point to honor American veterans, but as General George S. Patton, Jr., reminded us, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” Indeed.

A Patton contemporary, General Douglas MacArthur, framed his farewell address before cadets at West Point around “Duty, Honor, Country”: “Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. … Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon in the night: Duty, honor, country.”

Yet long before either of these revered American generals weighed in, John Stuart Mill had penned his thoughts with prophetic brilliance: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

Better men, indeed.

Amid all the cyclical and cynical political rancor, it is worth remembering the words of Army Veteran Charles M. Province: “It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.”

Every death of an American Patriot is a tragic loss – but ever more distressing when the loss hits close to home. Last week, our editorial shop lost a friend and a Patriot hero. Major Gerald M. Bloomfield II, 38, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, was an old friend. He and Captain Michael D. Martino, 32, were killed when their AH-1W Super Cobra crashed while flying in support of security and stabilization operations near Ramadi, Iraq.

Jerry was a hard-charger. He was ever-armed with a wry look, a funny story, and an insightful word. He last spoke with his dad, by phone, about a week before the crash. In doing so, he reaffirmed, as he often did, how much he believed in what he was doing – and how much he loved his “boys,” his fellow Marines. “There’s hope for this country;” he told his dad. “There’s real hope here.” Jerry leaves behind a loving family, including his wife, and an exceptionally brave 13-year-old son who worshipped him. Semper Fi.

In the end, America stands proud and free because our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen have stood bravely in harm’s way – then as now. They were, and remain, better men. For their steadfast devotion to duty, honor and country, we, the American People, offer our humble gratitude and heartfelt thanks.

Accordingly, let us set aside a moment to reflect upon and honor the sacrifice of our Patriot veterans. Today, especially, let us raise up our veterans and their families in our prayers. Please take one minute to sign an Open Letter in Support of America’s Armed Forces.

Quote of the week…

“Today our nation pays tribute to our veterans – 25 million vets…. At this hour, a new generation of Americans is defending our flag and our freedom in the first war of this century. This war came to our shores on the morning of September 11, 2001. …We know that they want to strike again and our nation has made a clear choice. We will confront this mortal danger to all humanity. We will not tire or rest until the War on Terror is won. … [I]t is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. … We will never back down. We will never give in. We will never accept anything less than complete victory.” –President George W. Bush

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