|Fort Logan National Cemetery|
After World War II and the Korean "Conflict" (legal semantics for political purposes), Congress, in 1954, recognized the need to honor all who serve and gave this legal holiday its present name, Veterans Day. In 1971, Congress separated the holiday from its roots by moving the observance to the 4th Monday in October. The American people tolerated that for only a few years and the original date was restored in 1978.
Popular fascination with today’s palindrome date, 11/11/11, distracts some attention from this year’s holiday, but numerology isn’t what is on my mind. At the beginning of this week, the Westboro Baptist Church brought its odious "God hates America" campaign to Denver’s East High School, where my daughters are students.
Westboro’s hate crusade against homosexuals, Jews, and others is infamous for many reasons, but most of all for making the funerals of America’s war dead platforms for Westboro’s abhorrent messages. The East High community (including my family and I) came out in force to challenge the Westboro picketers, just as communities, faith groups, and many veterans do at locations all over the country.
Westboro’s messages, while hateful, were rote, delivered with no passion in their eyes or voices and ultimately ineffective. While I have never had to endure their detestable presence at a military burial, I have to wonder what’s the greater disservice to our servicemen and women, Westboro or public praises and recognitions of their service that fail to move beyond words.
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.President John Kennedy included that idea in the Thanksgiving proclamation issued only days before his assassination, but it speaks to our observation of this legal holiday as well, especially at a time when the burden of defending our nation is borne by a very small portion of our population, when the costs of war, or even the very idea that we are at war, isn’t felt in the lives of the vast majority of Americans.
Less than 1 percent of Americans serve in uniform today, but they bear 100 percent of the burden of defending our Nation. Currently, more than 2.2 million service members make up America’s all-volunteer force in the active, National Guard, and Reserve components. Since September 11, 2001, more than two million troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Fifty five percent of the force is married and 40 percent have two children. Only 37 percent of our families live on military installations; the remaining 63 percent live in over 4,000 communities nationwide. Multiple deployments, combat injuries, and the challenges of reintegration can have far-reaching effects on not only the troops and their families, but also upon America’s communities as well. These challenges should be at the forefront of our national discourse.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month ended World War I, but the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year ends my legal holiday series. I’ve been round the calendar more than twice on this journey. I began with Memorial Day; it seems fit to end with Veteran’s Day, which has always been my favorite in the series. More than the debt the nation owes our veterans, I owe two vets, my parents, for my existence and for inspiring me in everything.
This post and this series end with a photo of a standard government tombstone. This one is not in a national cemetery, but in a small graveyard near the northwestern shore of Lake Buchanan in the Texas Hill Country. Uniformity connects in death as in life; even the casual observer will know that an American hero is buried here. I am honored to call this hero Dad and I miss him very much.