Veterans Day is an event that is often overlooked these days. It wasn’t always so. Not so very long ago the streets would be lined with people honoring veterans. There would be a parade and marching bands.
I have seen photographs of the veterans of the Civil War parading on Main Street. The members of the 11th Pennsylvania Reserve Corps not only arched but built campfires on the dirt street. It was a day for veterans but not Veterans Day.
The old warriors of the 105th Pennsylvania met at various locations including Brookville. They did not meet to indulge in some ego-fest. No, they met to honor their comrades. They met to honor the men who had stood the test of battle and survived. Every year their numbers dwindled. Old wounds, disease and, in the end, old age took them down the path to glory one by one.
I have read the speeches that were given and these men who fought at Gettysburg, through the Wilderness and into Richmond, did not speak of these deeds unless it was in reference to their missing friends.
They were honored by the public for their sacrifices. They were honored for the deprivations they endured and, in the end, for their victories.
As time wore on and the numbers diminished so too did the appreciation of the public. New wars raged and new veterans emerged. The doughboys of World War I marched as their grandfathers had done in great parades and were greeted by an appreciative public. That appreciation was dimmed by an even greater conflict, World War II.
As I read through the issues of the Jeffersonian-Democrat from that time I am in awe of the sacrifices made at home and by those who served. Men and women answered the call of duty without hesitation. They became the largest group of veterans this nation has ever seen. There were some who earned notoriety for their service but most of the other rank and file Tom, Dick and Harriets only wanted to return home and resume their lives. They did so and built the greatest nation the earth has ever seen.
This so-called “greatest generation” did not seek praise. They did what millions of Americans were required to do: They served. Some served on front lines many served on board a ship or in a cockpit, placing their lives in jeopardy every single day. Many others served behind the lines, doing the menial but necessary jobs required to make the whole organizations function. It has been estimated that it took 10 men to keep one man in combat.
Regardless of where they served or how they served, they earned the status of veteran. As with American veterans before them, they did their job and returned home. That is the beauty of the American citizen soldier.
The greatest generation is leaving us now. Every year we see fewer and fewer of their number at the annual Veteran’s Day events. That is the nature of things.
There have been three new generations of American veterans since World War II. These veterans fought in Korea, Vietnam and in the Middle East. Some were ignored by the public, others vilified by the people they served and one, the last, were recognized as heroes.
There have been few parades for the last three classes of veterans. It may be because the conflicts they were involved with did not touch all Americans as deeply as earlier wars. It may be that many Americans do not feel an obligation to support then men and women who put on the uniform of their nation. It may be we, as a people, have become desensitized to the sacrifices made on our behalf.
It is a sad commentary on our country that so many of us can simply ignore the sacrifices of our fellow citizens choosing instead to honor a pop star or a television personality.
These are dark times but we can find solace in our past. We can take pride in what our veterans have accomplished and we can find inspiration in the service of today’s service men and women who will be tomorrow’s veterans.
Participate on Veterans Day.