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Time to honor our veterans

November 9, 2012
The Daily News

Sunday is Veterans Day.

Begun as a celebration of the end of World War I, Veterans Day since has become a time set aside to honor all of America's veterans.

It was originally called Armistice Day, and was first celebrated on Nov. 11, 1919, exactly one year to the day after the shooting stopped in Europe.

People across the country observed two minutes of silence in remembrance of soldiers who had lost their lives. Similar ceremonies were held in England and France.

A vital element of the observance was added in 1921, when the body of an unknown American soldier was moved from France to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The observance of that special day in Washington included President Warren G. Harding laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (now Tomb of the Unknowns), an act repeated each Veterans Day since then.

Armistice Day was established officially by Congress in 1926.

It became a national holiday 12 years later. But the "armistice" didn't live up to the hope that there would never be another world war.

To honor veterans of every conflict, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill in 1954 to change the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

In 1968, a law was enacted calling for Veterans Day to be celebrated the fourth Monday in October.

In response to strong feelings about the original date, Congress in 1978 changed Veterans Day back to the original date of Nov. 11.

Two unknowns were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in 1958.

One was killed in World War II and one died in the Korean War.

In 1984, a body from the Vietnam War was brought to join the other Unknowns.

But in 1998, that body was identified through DNA tests and moved from the Tomb of the Unknowns.

In addition to ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, it has long been a Veterans Day tradition for observances to be held in each state with parades, patriotic ceremonies, and the display of flags.

From that momentous day at the end of World War I - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - evolved a special day for acknowledging all the men and women, living and dead, who took up arms in defense of America.

More than half the men and women who have served in U.S. military forces throughout history, nearly 25 million, are alive today. More than 80 percent of them are over the age of 50.

Veterans asked very little of their country, but gave everything they had. The least we can do is give them our sincerest "thank you" for a job well done.

Our children and grandchildren will follow their parent's example. They will learn to respect and appreciate a group of special Americans who are worthy of praise, but are so modest about their service that they will settle for a simple "thank you."

Veterans are common Americans of uncommon valor and devotion to duty.

They are men and women willing to spill their blood if it means their fellow Americans won't be forced to spill theirs.

As our troops battle terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans of all eras must not be forgotten.

They are our heroes. They are our best hope for peace and democracy in the world.

They are our neighbors.

Their faces are familiar, their memories vivid.

Who are our veterans? They are:

The neighborhood barber who once served on a U.S. Navy warship.

The beat cop who once kept the peace as an MP at an military installation in Iraq.

The over-the-road trucker who flew helicopters in Vietnam.

The physician who pulled bullets out of wounded troops and sewed them back together.

The hobby pilot who flew a majestic Flying Fortress deep in the heart of enemy territory.

The clergyman who issued last rites to fallen patriots and inspirational words to the battle-weary.

When you think about it, there are perhaps thousands of veterans in this area - family, friends and acquaintances and other readers of this newspaper - who deserve a "thank you."

If you appreciate the freedom we, as Americans, enjoy today, then you realize why it's important to honor those who sacrificed for that freedom.

That is what Veterans Day is all about.



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