Gratitude: Of all America’s holidays that commemorate our national past, Veterans Day is perhaps the one that gets the least respect, though it deserves the most. America’s veterans should have their sacrifices remembered and celebrated, not just on Veterans Day but always.
It’s sad but, for many Veteran’s Day has a fusty, old-time quality. Indeed, many young Americans don’t know even a single person who has served in the military. It’s an alien concept.
XAutoplay: On | OffAnd, really, it’s not hard to see why.
Today, according to the Census Bureau, just 7% of the adult population are veterans, compared with 18% as recently as 1980. The reason for this is a big drop in the number of active-duty personnel: In 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War, we had 3.5 million people on active duty around the world, or nearly 3% of our adult population. Today, that’s just 1.3 million, or about 0.5%.
For earlier generations, nearly everyone had a father, uncle or a brother who served in the military. Some even had mothers or aunts or sisters who served. It was not at all uncommon.
Increasingly, however, it is. Which is a pity, because even as the percentages shrink, the actual numbers of military veterans remain quite large: close to 20 million. Of those nearly 19 million, 6.7 million served during the Vietnam War, 7.1 million during the Gulf War, 1.6 million during the Korean War and, still, 768,000 vets from World War II.
Yes, they walk among us. And though we often can’t tell at a glance, many of them paid a bitter price for their service: Some 3.8 million veterans have disabilities related to their military service. Across the generations, America’s wars have claimed the lives of 1.1 million — brothers, sons, fathers, sisters, daughters who were forever taken from their families and loved ones, paying the ultimate sacrifice for their service.
We have set aside a meager one day a year to thank these fellow Americans for what they did. They had to serve months and years in hellish, dangerous, far away and often remote places so that we could work and play in peace, and pursue our lives. One day of gratitude is really not enough.
Perhaps the greatest blessing of being an American is the Declaration of Independence’s basic guarantee of our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For all of us, it is the repeated sacrifice of eight generations of Americans, willing to serve, suffer and even die on our behalf, that has made that possible.
So to all our friends, family, fellow citizens and readers who have served their country in our military, we offer a heartfelt thank you. And we hope we will all have the decency and grace to thank you not just on Veteran’s Day, but every day that we are reminded of your service.
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