One century later, Veterans Day is still a reminder of the strength of the American people.
Amid political turmoil, let’s not forget the sacrifices of those who fought for our freedom. During the darkest times in American history, our armed forces sacrificed everything, leaving behind their families, for the safety and democracy of our nation. We must protect the liberties they fought for.
When former President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day in November of 1919, later renamed Veterans Day, he stated, “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 and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”
Although it took a few years to become an observed holiday, decades later, Veterans Day is still a reflection of the sacrifices and patriotism of the men and women who fought for the many opportunities we have today. Whether it was overseas or in the U.S., our veterans have made a difference, and many shaped the course of our history.
Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was a computer pioneer and naval officer. During World War II, wanting to join the war effort, she enlisted in the Naval Reserve to work on the Mark I computer, the first electromechanical computer. Following the war, she remained in the U.S. Navy as a reserve officer. She later worked on the Mark II and Mark III computers. She was known for helping to create the first compiler for computer languages.
Due to her remarkable efforts, she became the first female recipient of the National Medal of Technology in 1991. She was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously for her contributions to the field of computer science. Hopper retired from the Navy as a rear admiral at the age of 79. She was known as “Amazing Grace” and “the first lady of software.”
A more prominently known veteran, Neil Armstrong served as a naval aviator from 1949 to 1952, before he joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1955. Armstrong served as a naval aviator during the Korean War – flying 78 combat missions over Korea.
Armstrong would become the first man to walk on the moon, uttering the famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Through his dedication, Armstrong would be the recipient of many special honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
When asked about the difference between being a naval aviator and an astronaut, he remarked, “They all require dedication, skill and eternal vigilance. They all involve the acceptance of risk — military combat probably is the highest risk … and spaceflight requires that you accept some risk.”
One of the most decorated generals in history, General Douglas MacArthur served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. A five-star general, MacArthur is remembered for commanding the Southwest Pacific in World War II, overseeing the successful occupation of postwar Japan and leading the United Nation forces in Japan.
Service ran in the family. General MacArthur’s father, Army 1st Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur Jr., served in the Civil War. The MacArthurs would share the privilege of being one of two father and son duos to both be awarded the Medal of Honor. General MacArthur earned his Medal of Honor for his defense of the Philippines in 1942.
Although MacArthur was dismissed by President Harry S. Truman, when he returned to the U.S., he was honored for his service and welcomed as a hero. Before moving away from the public eye, MacArthur was remembered for reciting an old army song, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
Let us not forget the commitment, patriotism and sacrifices that our veterans made for our nation. Whether it was through technological advancements on the home front, embarking to the moon, or fighting on the battlefields, servicemen and women committed their lives for a better future for America. Take a moment this Veterans Day to be grateful for and reflect on the dedication of the more than 17 million men and women who are currently veterans in our nation.
As former President Ronald Reagan notably said in 1983, “Veterans know better than anyone else the price of freedom, for they’ve suffered the scars of war. We can offer them no better tribute than to protect what they have won for us.” Even if we do not serve in the armed forces, we must continue to fight for the freedoms our veterans committed their lives to ensure we have. America is stronger because of our veterans.