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A letter to our veterans

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.  That dreadful conflict introduced the horrors of mechanized industrial warfare on a massive scale.  No nation was prepared for the slaughter that was wrought, with over 16 million deaths and another 20 million casualties.  That number roughly equals the entire population of the 25 largest U.S. cities. 

That war ended on a famous milestone: the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.  To commemorate that date, the United States Congress established Armistice Day in 1938.  One important thing to remember is that World War I solidified our still robust alliance with the Commonwealth countries.  The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have military members serving here at Buckley, and Nov. 11 is an equally important day for our partners. 

One year later, World War II broke out in Europe, and subsequent alliances drove an inconceivably massive conflict on a truly global scale that caused roughly 60 million deaths, or about 2.5 percent of the world's population.  

Conflicts of this size required gigantic military forces, and those veterans came home from conflict and changed the world.  Sixty years ago this month, the United States Congress renamed Nov. 11 Veteran's Day. 

President Eisenhower, himself a veteran of remarkable pedigree, proclaimed in a letter to the administrator at Veterans' Affairs, "I have today signed a proclamation calling upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954 as Veterans Day. It is my earnest hope that all veterans, their organizations and the entire citizenry will join hands to insure proper and widespread observance of this day." 

There are more than 23 million living veterans in our nation.  That is, 23 million men and women who wrote a blank check to the rest of Americans - a check payable up to the value of their lives.  Even in these remarkable times of social media, it is impossible to thank 23 million people to whom we owe gratitude for the freedoms and liberties we enjoy.   As such, my method is this letter. My humble request is that you take a moment to personally remember the proud alumni with whom your military service is a shared bond. 

A service member's humility often makes it difficult for others to know the depth of the individual's sacrifice.  The country will never know the amount to which they are indebted to veterans.  Indeed, there are forgotten veterans among us.  There are also those who returned from service with much less than when they started - visible or not.  In combat, there are no unwounded service members.  Those who served know and understand this, and the beautiful, honorable truth is that they would suit up again without pause if called or compelled. 

That is the fundamental meaning of Veterans Day to me: the abiding commitment to our country that was forged while in uniform, but continues long after the last buckle was unfastened.  One only has to see a World War II veteran raising a hand to salute the flag to understand the depth of the bond.

That hand also reminds us that we need to cherish those while we can.  Our nation erects grand memorials to those who have fallen.  Statues are no doubt important, as they ensure not a day goes by where someone, somewhere is reminded of the price of liberty.  We should never allow our memory to falter, but I argue there are no better reminders than the 23 million veterans among us.  I have visited too many memorials to count, yet I have never found a statue that could hug me back, or shake my hand, or one that could give me that sheepishly proud and knowing look when I offered my thanks. 

Abraham Lincoln said, "Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause." 

Amen, Mr. President. 

In that vein, you veterans need to know, or be reminded, that you made a difference while bearing your country's cause.  That difference is still being felt today.  Some may think our country is divided, although I believe Mr. Lincoln would beg to differ.  I find it comforting that in this time of fracture and discontent, one unifying concept is the trust given to our uniformed service members.   You made that happen.  I have some small understanding of that impact and can only pray this small measure of appreciation is a salve to you who have already given so much to each of us.  It is my sincere hope that this day finds you in safety and comfort, surrounded by loved ones as we all work toward the day that all of mankind can live together in peace. 

In closing, it is my honor and my privilege to serve.  My promise is this: as long as I serve, I will do everything in my capacity to advance the standard you and your 23 million comrades set.    Godspeed.
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