VETERANS DAY 2017
John G. “Jack” Heslin

VETERANS DAY - FIRE AND LIGHT

Historically, what we now call Veterans Day was Armistice Day --- a day to commemorate the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I on November 11, 1918. In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations..."

The name was changed to Veterans Day in 1954. "Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good." https://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp

So, we are gathered here today - even as talk of war once again fills the air, to honor the fallen soldiers of past American Wars and to honor all Veterans for their service. And how should we honor them? More than anything, I believe, we should honor them by appreciating them for their sacrifices and their commitment to our great Country.

Appreciation is a virtue our culture seems to be missing today as we look at the many who feel entitled to the freedoms we all enjoy without much thought of who paid the price for those freedoms. Appreciation is the very core of our loving relationships, and it is the source of true happiness. We should acknowledge that the gift of Freedom was paid for in the blood and sacrifice of a long line of patriots who stood in the fire so that we may stand in the light of today.

We can go to Washington and visit the monuments erected to help us remember who they were - their names are indelibly etched in stone and in the history of our great Country.

But though we may read their names etched in stone that does not tell us who they were. You had to know them as young, bright faces with hopes and dreams - with families and loved ones - with fears and courage - fully alive. They were friends and comrades like - Frank Bradley, Dave Rogers, Joe Eubanks, Fred Suttle and many more. We the living - we the Veterans - Brothers in Arms - hold them in our memories - forever young.

As we look at our Veterans today, we might ask why they risked all - even their lives - to stand together against the fire. There are those who would say that they were fools and that they should have run from the fire and saved themselves. There are those who would denigrate our service and steal our honor with false accusations. They would say there is nothing worth risking your life for - or for taking the life of another. We hear these voices even today.

But there are others of us who know we must be willing, if necessary, to stand in the white hot fire of combat to preserve that most precious state of being that all people seek - freedom. And today there are more voices of support than there were at some times in our past.

I remember the story Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale told of the time he was a POW in Hanoi in late 1972 as B - 52 Bombers were sent over North Vietnam. Admiral Stockdale could hear the thunder of the huge bombers; and, from his cell, he could see the burning aircraft as they plummeted to the ground after being hit by missiles. He told of how his tormentors, the prison guards, came running into his cell; and, for the first time, he could see that there was real fear in their eyes as they pressed for answers to their questions. The source of their fear was not so much the devastation brought by the big bombers but rather the visible commitment of the crews who continued to come even in the face of the most intense anti-aircraft fire since WW II. Admiral Stockdale told them that they would keep coming.

I believe history has shown that nations unable or unwilling to defend what they believe in will soon perish. I believe those men and women, warriors all, who have served this great Nation in the Armed Forces understand why they were willing to risk it all. That even as the thoughts of loved ones, wives, and children filled their minds, they stepped forward against the fire with hope and Faith that their deeds would not be forgotten and their sacrifice would not be in vain. They believed that what they did would help preserve the light of Freedom -- even for those too weak to defend themselves.

Some of us who survived ask why we were spared while others were not. I can still see and hear the storm of bullets, the battle-damaged aircraft that stayed in the air through the sheer force of will, and the enemy rocket that landed at my feet - but did not explode. We knew that our survival - day to day - was more a result of God's Grace than our ability to prevail. In part, I suppose, we survived so that we can remember our brothers in arms and what they did and insure that a grateful Nation never forgets the price of Freedom in a world where some evil men, if given the opportunity, would take that Freedom from all of us.

So we are gathered here this day to remember and to give honor and thanks to all those who have served - living and dead, and to be thankful that some were willing, when called, to stand in the fire even as it consumed them.

This quote from John Stuart Mill is as true today as when it was first printed in 1862 -

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

Life is short - thank the veterans in your life - they won't ask for your thanks, but they will appreciate it and know that they live in a grateful Nation.

May God Bless all who have served and may God Bless America.

Thank you -