By one of history’s ironic coincidences, Veterans Day this year occurs on the two-month anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Those attacks have correctly been called an assault on America, on civilization, and on modernity. At the root, however, the terrorists sought, and still seek, to destroy the freedom that underlies each of the above and that the perpetrators of terror quite clearly find most detestable.
Contrary to their view, freedom is, in fact, the loftiest, most noble idea yet pursued by mankind, and for over 200 years, the United States has been its greatest beacon in the world. So much has this nation valued liberty that it has called and relied upon its youth, the very backbone of the country, to fight and die to make men free.
On this Veterans Day, with freedom under attack and our young men once again entering the maelstrom of war to protect liberty, it is most fitting to contemplate and remember the contributions of those who have defended our shores and our values.
Ever since our nation’s uncertain beginnings in a war against England, America’s young men have gone to war at home and abroad and have been willing to sacrifice everything so that the flame of freedom might not be extinguished and might burn ever more brightly throughout the world.
And because opponents and would-be destroyers of freedom always seem to exist, the actions of our soldiers are never far removed from our own time. In the “ravaged century” that was the 20th, Americans fought and died across the globe in the name of the United States and freedom, “sloughing through hell” in trenches and in clouds of poisonous gas on the Western Front; trudging through the fields and hedgerows of Europe and island-hopping in the Pacific; freezing in the mountains of Korea and sweating in the jungles of Vietnam; and pushing through oases of fire in the Middle East.
They charged enemy lines, endured storms of steel, rushed beaches, braved perilous skies and seas — indeed, confronted horrors unknown to most — so that freedom might not perish from this earth. Countless Americans died in these gallant efforts and now lie frozen in perpetual youth, side by side forever, reminders to all of the price of freedom.
With armed conflict so near to us in time, many are connected to those, living and dead, who served, and yet we give them precious little thought. Admittedly, I, too, am often guilty of this most egregious forgetfulness, all the more unjustifiable because of my direct link to four veterans: my great-grandfather, who, over 35 years old at the time, enlisted in the Navy during World War II; my grandfathers, who, barely out of high school, sailed aboard naval vessels and flew in B-24s; and my own father, who, as an Army Ranger, served in a time of peace but was, like his fellow soldiers, prepared to go to war if necessary.
But the world and life have now changed, and I, and others, I hope, have been stirred into a renewed awareness and appreciation of our soldiers and veterans.
We owe all our veterans — those who survived and those who perished, those who saw battle and those who did not, those we know and those we can never know — a great debt. On Veterans Day and every day, in war and in peace, we would do well to recall the service and sacrifice of our soldiers, past and present, and to express our deepest gratitude to them, for they are truly the pride of this great land, and like the United States itself, they, too, are the “last, best hope of earth.”
David M. Reisch is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.