November is a time to be thankful. Of course, we celebrate Thanksgiving later on in the month. But November is also the time when we celebrate Veterans Day and give thanks to all those who have served our country.
Veterans Day began as a day to remember those who served in World War I. That war ended at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, so Veterans Day has always been celebrated on November 11. But now the day is meant to remember those who have served in the military at any time, not just during World War I.
Veterans Day is different from Memorial Day in that Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who have died in service to our country, whereas Veterans Day honors all those who have served during both peacetime and war.
Veterans Day allows us to take time away from work and other obligations so that we can reflect on the sacrifices that have been made for our freedom and security, and so that we can honor all those who have sworn to defend our country.
Growing up, I can’t count the number of times I heard the saying, “Freedom is not free.” Those are words that are easy to say, but sometimes hard to truly appreciate. But those words inspired me to serve in the U.S. Army Reserve and the Alabama National Guard, just as they did my dad.
It was during my time in the military that I began to truly realize the meaning of those words and just how much our freedom has cost. The sheer sacrifice our veterans and their families have made for this country humbles me every time I think about it. Simply saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem to be enough, and yet, that’s all many that veterans have ever asked. They deserve so much more!
It breaks my heart when I read about some of the problems our Veteran Administration system has had over the years, or about VA centers closing throughout Alabama (the state closed 17 of them in 2012).
These problems show the difficulties our veterans face when they come home, and the challenge that our elected leaders face. But it is a challenge that we must face.
In the meantime, we should all pause and take time to thank our nation’s heroes for their service. Veterans Day is more than just a day off work or a day out of school; it is more than a time to grill out and watch reruns of war movies. Veterans Day is a time to remember that freedom isn’t free. It has cost us dearly.
Since 1775, more than 2.8 million Americans have died or been wounded in service to our country. More than 6,500 have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, while nearly 51,000 have been wounded.
Our heroes – those who came home alive and those who did not – deserve our thanks each and every single day, and I am so proud we have a day dedicated to them.
I shudder at the thought of what our country would look like without the brave men and women of our armed forces. We are truly blessed by God that mothers and fathers have raised such great Americans. To these families I say, we are blessed that your son or daughter has chosen to serve our country, and I am thankful not only for them but for you as well. They walk the path, but you helped lead them there.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
This year I encourage each and every person to not only celebrate Veterans Day by saying thank you and praying for the safety of those serving, but to take some sort of action to show your appreciation.
Please consider making a donation, no matter how small, to the Wounded Warrior Project. Say a prayer for those not able to make it home for Thanksgiving with their loved ones, because they are fighting to insure your dinner won’t be interrupted. Take a moment to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and let the words wash over you.
We must be grateful always for our veterans. But we need to show them our gratitude by living each day as proud Americans, worthy of their sacrifice, proving President Kennedy correct, that the highest appreciation we can show our nation’s heroes is not by uttering words, but by living them.
Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.