Today is Veteran's Day. The airwaves, ether and mass media are saturated with people exhorting you to "thank a vet." I find that sentiment, on this particular day, rings hollow. Why? Because every day we live in freedom, the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution, including the right to be selfish and irresponsible, is due to one and only one person - the Veteran.
Our founding fathers understood this. They understood that the further one got from the realities of what it takes not only to secure but to maintain those freedoms, one would grow less understanding and appreciative of them. John Adams summed up this evolution in his famous quote: "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."
We, as a country and as a world have lived in relative peace for the last three-quarters of a century. That's three generations. As in Adam's quotation, the third generation is so distanced from this last period of world war that they believe that any war is "unnecessary". They believe, instead, that it is the government -- politicians, special interest groups, intellectuals -- who "provide" the freedoms they enjoy.
My father, a veteran of World War II, of the first wave on Omaha Beach, a recipient of the Silver Star, twice the Bronze Star, a Battlefield Commission (instead of the offered Medal of Honor), knew what it was to secure those freedoms. Like Lance Corporal Edwin Kraft, he believed that "For those that will fight for it, freedom has a flavor the protected shall never know."
I had occasion to ask him what he thought of the anti-war protesters in the 70's, 80's and 90's. He told me, "I'm glad they're free to protest."
I'm not disregarding the efforts of the artists, politicians, students, teachers, businessmen, farmers, and the rest of us who make up this nation. I am, however, stating that it is due to the men and women "on that wall" that those people are and remain free to pursue their lives.
Charles Michael Province, US Army Veteran, wrote the now-famous lines, summing up this daily, ongoing sacrifice:
It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.
I was brought up understanding this, eventhough it was never put into words. Instead, my own curiousity lead me to read more and more about the history of our country and our world. And the more I learned, the more I realized that it was the soliders insured that the political philosophies of our Founding Fathers would be secured for all citizens.
After coaxing out my father's stories and those of his remaining comrades, I began to understand. And so, every time, regardless of what day of the year it is, that I see a soldier or veteran, I thank them "for their service" -- because I realize that they have served so that I don't have to.
So today, Veteran's Day, yes, thank a vet. But do so every day, every opportunity. Thank those who guarantee the freedoms you and I, in our blissful ignorance, enjoy every day. Including the freedom to call those very Veterans "baby killers". It's due to them that you can do that without going to a concentration camp.
Or, as a bumper sticker put it, "If war wasn't the answer we'd be speaking German."
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