Most people do not regard Veterans Day as more than a day off of school or a bank holiday. But Nov. 11 has substantial significance both historically and in the present context.
Veterans Day (also known as Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and Canada) is a day dedicated to the servicemen of the nation who served in their nation’s armed forces honorably. The day was initially known around the world as Armistice Day, as a way to remember and reflect upon the First World War. The armistice agreement ceasing hostilities took effect on the 11th hour of the 11th month in the year of 1918, bringing an end to a horrific conflict like the planet had never seen before, leaving about 16 million military personnel from around the globe dead, and a further 20 million injured. In addition, over 6 million civilians were killed in the conflict.
On the one year anniversary of the end of the War to End All Wars, President Woodrow Wilson issued a declaration to the American people expressing what he believed the day meant. He said, “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 nations” (Supplement, 8804).
Traditionally, the day was celebrated with parades, public meetings, and brief suspensions of public businesses. The day was celebrated unofficially in this nation until 1938, when an act of congress (52 Stat. 351; 5 U.S. Code, Sec. 87a) officially passed it into legal status.
However, after the Second World War required the largest mobilization of troops in national history, and U.S. forces had successfully repelled communist offensives in the Korean War, the name of the day was changed to Veterans Day and was designated to honor all service members rather than just those of World War I.
Today Veterans Day holds enormous cultural importance. It represents the sacrifices, sufferings and struggles undertaken by those who, without regard for their own well-being, kept this nation safe, which has resulted in the free and prosperous life we are privileged to lead these days.
The day also draws attention to the struggles these veterans face. Many veterans come home physically disabled and in need of assistance. Not all wounds are physical, however, mental and emotional casualties of war are also widespread due to PTSD.
After experiencing the traumas of war, many veterans are unable to leave behind these experiences and are haunted by them for years to come. According to estimates from the Office of Veterans Affairs, between 11-20% of veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in any given year. Veterans of Operation Desert Storm are projected at 12% and a staggering 30% of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD at some point in their lifetime.
According to the VA Suicide Prevention Program report from July of 2016, about 20 veterans commit suicide each day on average. Veterans Day matters, and not just because it's a day off, but also because it memorializes those who have sacrificed so much for us, emphasizes the place of veterans in our society and highlights the need to take care of our veterans.
I hope that you will take a moment to consider the veterans in your family who gave their all and appreciate their sacrifices no matter what day it is.