This Veterans Day is a bit special. The date is certainly special for the superstitious, 11-11-11. This Veteran’s Day also sees the winding down of the Bush War in Iraq, with President Obama promising that almost all those troops will be home for Christmas. The War in Afghanistan, the longest in our nation’s history, also has a window of closure – 2014. On this day we pause to remember not just those who serve now and will be fortunate enough to come home, but we remember all those who served in the past, many of whom never came home, who left holes in the hearts of their loved ones.
When I was still teaching, I noted that there seemed to be three groups of my students who joined the armed forces after high school. First, there were those who were patriotic and wanted to serve their county, often coming from families that had a long tradition of serving in the military. Other students felt that the military offered them a chance to get training and education they couldn’t afford otherwise. Then, there was a third group of kids who just didn’t know what else to do, who thought the military would be a way to get Dad or Mom off their backs about their future.
I noticed one thing year after year. The only children of privilege who became soldiers were from that first group and they were few in number. The vast majority of the children I taught who became soldiers were children of the middle class and of the working class. It is those children who have spilled most of the blood on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. We may argue about the worthiness of whatever cause takes our children into combat, but we must never forget our obligation to those fine young veterans. Collectively, we sent them into danger and collectively we share a responsibility to them.
The final point that struck me today was when I read this morning that more than 850 of the veterans who fought in World War II die each day. So soon, those heroes won’t be with us, but what they did is written by their sacrifice in our history. I honor them this Veterans Day, as I do all those who have served and who still serve.