A speech written by my son which I delivered at the Veteran’s Day observance in Dwight, Illinois November 11, 2017:
It is the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. Ninety-nine years ago today, the guns on the Western Front fell silent and World War One ended. After such a great and terrible war, it was only natural that this day became a holiday. Woodrow Wilson proclaimed today Armistice Day in 1919 and thirty states made it a state holiday that same year. In 1938, this day became a national holiday by act of Congress. In 1954, after World War Two, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, to honor all the veterans of all of America’s conflicts.
Falling as it does on the day World War One ended, a war that has so greatly shaped our world, as so many of our conflicts in the last century and beyond have, in a sense it is fitting that a holiday celebrating all veterans should be held today. However, in a larger sense, in a far greater sense, is there really only one particular day when we should honor our veterans? No, there is not. In reality, every day is Veterans Day, because the actions and sacrifices of our veterans mark every day we live. They have made the world we live in, and we must ever thank them for what they did for us, both at home and throughout the Earth.
This sounds perhaps overblown, but it is really just a statement of fact. Who is fighting the Taliban and ISIS? Who fought Communism and won the Cold War? Who fought the Nazis and the Empire of Japan? Who fought the Civil War? Who won our independence? The answer is always the same: veterans, American veterans. Most of them ordinary men, and sometimes ordinary women, at first blush no different from anyone you would meet walking around Dwight, who decided to do something extraordinary and stand up for the ideals this nation was founded on, to defeat tyranny and defend liberty, both here and abroad. These ideals are best summed up in the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These words have always had an immense impact, with the sheer weight of what they promise to all of us, to all mankind. But it is all too easy to imagine worlds where these words are just empty, high-sounding ink on an old piece of parchment, no more important to us than a scribble on a post-it note that we have crumpled and thrown away. It scarcely bears imagining, worlds where the Declaration and everything it promised would be seen as just a historical curiosity, or, at worst, trash, consigned to the forgotten past by those who rule our world. In order to appreciate what our veterans have accomplished, let us imagine such bleak alternate worlds where the truths of the Declaration were defeated.
Imagine the Declaration under glass in a British museum displaying documents from a failed American colonial revolt in the 1700s, that was just a minor disturbance on the road to breaking the Thirteen Colonies to the distant will of London. Or, in another world, the Declaration being displayed in a different exhibit, one on the founding documents of a failed republic that tore itself apart over slavery in the 1860s, first in two, then into more fragments of a great nation, as secession became a valid option for any grievance, and states fled a failing Union. Or, worst of all, the Declaration being burnt to ashes as Fascist or Communist armies paraded through our streets, ushering in a new era of hideous nightmares for all mankind.
The last world is unquestionably the most terrifying because in our world those ideologies murdered hundreds of millions of people and terrorized billions more during the past century. One can only imagine the horrors that would have been unleashed in a world where their madness and evil ruled supreme, bringing all that misery and bloodshed right to our homes, to our families. I have no doubt most of us know loved ones who died fighting in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. I’d like you all to join me in a brief moment of silence for them and for everyone who has died because of those murderous ideologies our veterans fought.
But we, thankfully, do not live in any of those worlds. We do not live in those worlds because the generations here, and the generations before, did not let them come to pass. Veterans of the past and veterans of today, embodying that which is best in all of us, stood and fought on countless battlefields to preserve the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, bringing us the peace and freedom we enjoy in this country today.
We live in a world where America stands for freedom. Let me repeat that sacred word: freedom! Many in this day and age like to scoff at that assertion, but we know that no other nation enjoys such a bonding to that noble ideal. Our veterans and their deeds are living proof of that. If anyone looks at the battles they fought, and why they were fought, they will know that America fights for freedom. The victories of our veterans were not just victories for our freedom, but for the freedom of all humanity.
Men and women throughout the globe do not look to Britain, Germany, Canada, Mexico, or any other nation to serve as beacons of liberty, beacons for the rights of all. They look to America because they know that throughout its history American soldiers have always striven to uphold those ideals. And so, going back to the beginning of this speech, every day is Veterans Day, because every day we live in the world they made, under God, and for this our veterans deserve every honor we can bestow.
Everything we enjoy, our veterans gave to us, often at a high price for themselves. Our safety, our prosperity, and most importantly, our freedom, were all made possible by their blood and sacrifice. They made a world where this nation stands tallest among all others, and a world where all men, even if they still groan under a tyrant’s rule, know of the American promise of freedom. When our veterans signed up, they knew what high price their duty might demand to protect our homes and our loved ones. They answered the call, and we are ever in their debt. And so on this day, and on all days, we should thank our veterans, not only for their service, but for all we have. May God bless and cherish our veterans, and the country which they have so nobly served.