At 11:11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918, the guns fell silent on the “Western Front,” and World War I, the war that had been called “The Great War” and “The War to End All Wars,” was over. More than 2 million American soldiers served in France during the fierce fighting that broke the German Army’s will to continue the war. This year, at 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of the 21st century, for the first time since 1918, there will be no American Veteran of the vast American Army that won the war in France to observe the anniversary of the end of that conflict. The last American veteran of World War I died this year, joining ranks with the millions of his comrades who exist only in memory and history.
That generation had served their country in peace as well as in war. They were builders as well as warriors. Among the structures for which they laid the foundations and commenced construction were the Veterans Administration and the veterans’ health care system, intended to fulfill the nation’s promises to those who had answered the call of duty and borne the burdens of battle. The foundations laid by the veterans of World War I were expanded and strengthened a generation later, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed, and Congress adopted, the GI Bill of Rights of 1944, providing health care and disability benefits for returning veterans of World War II and, as important, educational benefits that gave America a generation of skilled workers, teachers, administrators and executives who led this nation to a half century of unprecedented progress and prosperity.
Veterans Day, we should remember, is not a day to honor America’s dead, but a day to honor the living. It is a day set aside to honor those who have dedicated a portion of their lives to service in our nation’s military, and have gone on to continue their service to community, state and nation as productive citizens.
Today, more than 20 million of our fellow Americans are military veterans. Two million of those are veterans of the current military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The foundations laid, and the institutions built, by them and their predecessors continue to deliver on America’s promises to those who go in harm’s way for their country. Three years ago, the Congress adopted the GI Bill of Rights, the most comprehensive package of rights and benefits for America’s military veterans since the original GI Bill of Rights of 1944, containing educational incentives as well as medical, disability and rehabilitation benefits for veterans.
There are those in Congress today who would renege on America’s commitment to veterans.
As Americans, our commitment to this nation’s veterans must be as unquestionable, as unshakable, as unswerving as their courage in battle. We must continue to build on the foundations laid by those who forced the guns to fall silent on Nov. 11, 1918, so that we might hear the blessed song of peace. So, on this Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2011, let us commit ourselves to continue the work they have begun, to build a nation that honors the sacrifice and service of those who have worn the uniform of our military services. To America’s veterans on this Veterans Day I say, “Thank you for your service, and welcome home!” Together, we will continue to build a better, stronger America.