This weekend, as veterans of past wars gather in surroundings such as parks and cemeteries turned inhospitable by November dampness and chilly temperatures, we are inspired to remember the sacrifices of those individuals who went off to fight in the wars that have defined the modern world. For Veterans Day is equally as important as Memorial Day observations around the country in late May where we pause to honor those soldiers, sailors, fliers and their crews who did not return from those conflicts.
Veterans Day is often thought of in connection with the armistice that ended World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of the year 1918. The international conflict that had drawn in the United States in April 1917 had raged for four seemingly interminable years at a staggering cost to life, property and later, national borderlines in Europe and what used to be called Asia Minor. It was the first war to not only be extensively photographed by still camera, but also by cinema that brought home the images of men going “over the top” of their trenches into battle as theater patrons back in America, England and elsewhere viewed them in the early newsreel format. What they saw may have been more sanitized than the haunting photo work of Mathew Brady during the Civil War, but it was enough to remind citizens of Gen. William T. Sherman’s declaration from that period that “war is hell.”
That and the plight of veterans returning home with severe injuries caused by the initial mechanized war turned many Americans against future involvement in foreign battles. Such isolationist attitudes worked for awhile until world events again forced us into another battle for survival, this time for the triumph of democracy over dictatorship. Veterans Day is not only for the men and women who served in World War I but for all of America’s veterans who had served to preserve our national way of life since the Revolutionary War. That was the conflict that created the first democratic nation in a world ruled by monarchies and the like. It’s a distinction and a record of which we as citizens can be proud, and veterans have every right to gather on Nov. 11 and in the spring of the following year to memorialize that fact.
But it’s not exclusively for former military personnel but for all local residents in which to participate. It’s a means of providing meaning to what veterans accomplished in allowing family, friends and neighbors to live in freedom and peace, and recognition of the hardships endured by those survivors so they could return home and pick up their lives again.
Indeed, one of the privileges we enjoy due to the sacrifice of many was well on display this past week in states that voted for local offices, issues and referendums. Citizens make their sentiments known by going to the polls, something still unknown in non-democratic nations or in countries that boast of elections whose results are meaningless. Despite divided opinions on the value of casting ballots in today’s U.S. — and how secure they are — results still speak volumes about the national and local mood. The efforts of the fallen in past wars have preserved voting as one of our most precious rights, and we need to think about that, even just a little, when the next election rolls around and some folks choose not to exercise that right.
And not only this weekend should we pause from college football and family activities to honor the memory of our military heroes. We should give it much more thought all through the year, and not dismiss such sacrifice as a product of a bygone era. It really is something for which all should be grateful.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.