Almost one hundred years ago, American soldiers fighting in France, farm boys and car mechanics, turned the tide of World War I. Because of their valor, that terrible war ended at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year. To celebrate, Americans named November 11, 1918, ‘Armistice Day.’
Today, we call it Veterans Day.
On this day, our country honors all her service members: her hallowed dead, the living veterans who can always hold their heads high with pride, and those selfless ones who serve still. They are our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, mothers and fathers. They come from all walks of life; they carry the same virtues within them.
They possess courage, patriotism, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty, and integrity. At every moment in our history, they have made our country stronger.
After World War II, veterans returning to Nebraska went back to school. They became farmers; they raised families. They contributed in wonderful ways to our communities. They fueled economic growth and prosperity all across our state.
Throughout the last century, American service members have answered challenges from many foes. They confronted communism on the battlefield and in the hearts and minds of millions around the world. The populations of entire countries live in freedom today because of their efforts.
This undertaking was not without great cost. Americans are now commemorating the Vietnam conflict, which began in 1965, more than 50 years ago. Little did we know, at that time, how deeply it would scar our country. More than 58,000 service members lost their lives in Vietnam. The Vietnam Wall in our nation’s capital stands as a testament to their patriotism and commitment. It is also a place of healing.
On December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union officially dissolved. With it, a brutal and villainous political philosophy was left, as President Ronald Reagan said, on the “ash heap of history.”
Now, in our new century, American service members battle a different villain: radical Islamic terrorism. They meet this challenge courageously, confident in the love and support of their families at home.
Those families carry their own burden. The pain of separation is profound, constantly present in the empty chair at the table on birthdays or over the holidays. Sometimes, the chair remains empty.
When I meet with families that have lost their service member, I hear the same fear again and again. It is the fear that their loved one’s sacrifice will be forgotten. It is our duty to show them that Nebraskans never forget.
History teaches us that, after every conflict, a re-energized and re-focused America emerges. We often see economic growth emanate from returning veterans, eager to raise families and pursue the American dream. But we see something even more significant: a renewal of appreciation for our families, our country, and our way of life.
This optimism is described by Henry Van Dyke in his poem America for Me. A preacher, poet, and diplomat, Van Dyke served as American ambassador to the Netherlands during the beginning of World War I:
'Tis fine to see the Old World, and travel up and down
Among the famous palaces and cities of renown,
To admire the crumbly castles and the statues of the kings,—
But now I think I've had enough of antiquated things.
So it's home again, and home again, America for me!
My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be,
In the land of youth and freedom beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars!
This Veterans Day, I hope you will take a moment to thank a veteran who has sacrificed to preserve our nation and our way of life.