On Sept. 30, we marked a somber milestone: the 2,000th member of the U.S. military died in Afghanistan, at a remote checkpoint in the Wardak province. Confusion caused American forces to fire on a nearby Afghani army checkpoint; the Afghans returned fire. Two Americans died, as well as three Afghan soldiers.
Indeed, one of the most tragic aspects of the war is the “green-on-blue” violence — insurgents, in Afghani uniforms, killing NATO-member soldiers, particularly Americans. Gen. John Allen, leader of the NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said in frustration, “You know, we’re willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we’re not willing to be murdered for it.”
But Americans have sacrificed, in this war and in others. In addition to the casualties in Afghanistan, at least 4,400 members of the U.S. military haved died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003.
Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, when President Woodrow Wilson set aside Nov. 11, 1919, as a commemoration of the end of the Great War (fighting ceased at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918).
After World War II called up the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the nation’s history, and after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, veterans’ service organizations urged Congress to make the change to Veterans Day. The legislation was approved on June 1, 1954, and Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
But when the Uniform Holiday Bill was signed in June 1968, to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating national holidays on Mondays, Veterans Day was included. The first Veterans Day under the new schedule was observed — with much confusion — on Oct. 25, 1971.
It became clear that to most Americans, commemoration of the particular date was a matter of historic and patriotic significance, so in 1975 a law was adopted returning the annual observance to the original date of Nov. 11.
Veterans Day continues to be observed on Nov. 11, regardless of the day of the week on which it falls. This not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important intent of the celebration: to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
All of America’s veterans have placed our nation’s security before their own lives, creating a debt we can never fully repay.
Our veterans represent the best of America, and they deserve the best America can give them.