‘The war to end all wars’
11/6/2013, 4:09 p.m.
Monday, November 11, is Veterans Day. There are two days set aside every year to honor military veterans for service to the country. Memorial Day, in May, is specifically meant to honor deceased veterans. Although the day is for more solemn celebrations, it has come to mean the beginning of summer and the purpose of the day is sometimes lost in the backyard barbeques and the more or less political parades and speeches that punctuate the day.
Veterans Day always seems a little different in the way it is celebrated. Perhaps it is because the weather is turning colder and summer is long past. Maybe it’s because the day was originally called Armistice Day and the idea was to celebrate the end of World War I, the war to end all wars. Unfortunately that moment has not yet arrived. Since the original Armistice Day the U.S. has been in conflicts around the world almost constantly. World War II, Vietnam, and numerous other military conflicts have produced millions of veterans. On June 1, 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation changing the legal holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
For many of us Veterans Day is personal. My war was Vietnam in 1968. I served as a squad leader in an infantry platoon of the 101st Airborne. I had not given the subject of war much thought until I arrived in Vietnam. One legacy of that war is the Vietnam Memorial Wall. It stands as a stark reminder of war and the tremendous price it exacts. It robs us of the potential of young people.
The Vietnam War lasted approximately 10 years. During that time about 10 million people were in the armed services. Not all served in Vietnam because of our military responsibilities around the world. It does not diminish any individual’s military service. It’s just the luck of the draw. There are 58,267 names on the Wall presently. Names are added from time to time based on remains recovered and identified since the end of the conflict.
The largest age group on the Wall – 33,103 names – was 18 years old. There are 12 names belonging to 17-year-olds. Five names on the Wall belong to soldiers who were 16 and one who was 15. Almost 40,000 of the names on the Wall were 22 or younger. I knew a number of the soldiers who belonged to those names. I was 22 when I came home from Vietnam in January of 1969.
Perhaps Veterans Day is more solemn because the memory of the military experience is still with veterans and their family and friends. Attend a Veterans Day celebration this Monday. There is one at the Will County Courthouse at 10 a.m. Monday, November 11th. American Legion and VFW posts around Joliet and Will County will hold open house events and the public are invited. Most importantly thank a vet for their service. Remember, there is no glory in war. “There are no noble wars, just noble warriors.” Thanks to all veterans for your service. Stay tuned.