Veterans deserve far more than thanks once a year

By JAMES PHILLIPS,

The weekend preceding Veterans Day is always one of my favorite times to watch television. My favorite channel is The History Channel, and every year there’s an all-day special covering every major war of the 20th century. This really gives a civilian a tiny glimpse of how amazing our military veterans truly are, and the hardships they fought through. All I could think on Sunday was they deserve far more than “thank you” once a year.

Watching the special on World War I is always intriguing. So many leaders and civilians around the world believed it was the War to End All Wars, but in hindsight it seemed to be the war that set in motion the wars to come.

“The Great War” did bring us what has come to be known as Veterans Day. The day we set aside each year to honor all the brave men and women who have served their country in the armed services.

Months before the Treaty of Versailles was signed, the Allied nations and Germany declared a temporary end to fighting, an armistice, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

One year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service.”

As the 20th century continually reminded us all too clearly, an armistice is always a temporary affair. As long as there are human beings there will be wars, that’s just a fact.

We know, as surely as the sun rises and night follows day, that other battles will come, more blood will be spilled and the next generation of American veterans will be at the ready to face whatever their war brings.

America has always had those who are willing to stand up and say, “In war or peace, I stand ready to serve my country, to protect America and to defend my fellow citizens against whatever powers array against it.”

In our busy lives, we try to remember that our thanks for their service does not end when these soldiers cease to be soldiers and become full-time citizens again.

One of the most disturbing things about our nation’s history when it comes to war is how poorly some of our soldiers have been treated when they returned from fighting in far-off lands.

The end of any war is supposed to be a time to rejoice and heal as a country, and time for those who shouldered the burden to return to everything and everyone they sacrificed while they bravely fought.

President Lincoln said, “bind up the nation’s wounds...to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”

Our country has to get better at serving those who have served us. There are, in our most recent veterans, both visible and invisible wounds of mind, body and soul. As a nation we must be vigilant that the government gives every veteran his or her due, both in veterans’ hospitals and in civilian facilities.

Sadly, that hasn’t been the case. Too often, the government has acted as if it wished soldiers would “fade away” so that they do not have to burden the taxpayer. That attitude has no place in an America that says it values its veterans. They gave this country more, and they deserve more.

Veterans Day is a time to bring old and young veterans into focus to recognize and remember what they have done on our behalf, and to thank them.

We all see them now and again, members of the veteran’s groups as they walk down the same streets we do. Some may move a little slower now, or they may not be the finely tuned soldier they were when they mustered out but there is something special about each one.

There are some important things time never wears away — a sense of pride, a sense of honor, a sense of integrity and knowing they have done their part to keep this country strong and the world safer.

I believe our veterans should be far more celebrated, and far better treated by our government, because our debt to them can never be, “Paid in full.”