According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Tooele County has more than 4,000 military veterans on its soil. We say “soil” to remind us that these 4,000 men and women didn’t just protect our democratic ideals at war; they made sure the tyranny and oppression that caused those wars never crossed U.S. borders.
It could be said that Pearl Harbor and 9/11 defy that statement — but they were one-day attacks. The wars that followed were not fought here. Cities and towns were not left in ruins, nor were there thousands of citizen casualties, or thousands of citizen refugees fleeing to Canada or Mexico for safety. We have been spared from those grim realities because our soldiers have done their job so well abroad.
And continue to do so today.
Yet, being “spared” from modern war realities on our own soil perhaps has a down side: Citizens who have never worn a U.S. military uniform or fought in battle may find it hard to relate to those who have. Even more regrettable, our American way of life, far removed from the chaos and violent conflicts seen in other countries, creates the opportunity for citizens to take soldiers’ sacrifices for granted — or worse, feel entitled to America’s coveted lifestyle without dignity, respect and admiration for soldiers who have fought to protect it.
Such concerns come to mind as our nation prepares to observe its 96th Veterans Day tomorrow. The federal holiday encourages us to reflect on our nation’s war history, and to genuinely honor and give thanks to U.S. soldiers who served their country and returned home. It is often confused with Memorial or Decoration Day, which began in the 1860s after the Civil War to remember and honor soldiers who were killed in combat.
Veterans Day was founded by President Woodrow Wilson on Nov. 11, 1919 and was originally called Armistice Day. That day was exactly one year after the official end of World War I. Armistice Day honored World War I veterans, but in 1954, after the nation fought in World War II and the Korean War, it was changed to include all military veterans. Except for a brief period in the 1970s, Veterans Day has always been held on Nov. 11 to retain the holiday’s link with the actual end of World War I.
With Veterans Day nearing its 100th anniversary, the holiday does show our nation’s commitment to honor and thank soldiers who have returned home. Regrettably, that commitment doesn’t always extend beyond the day. Many veterans across America still struggle to receive veterans’ benefits and services they richly deserve.
On the eve of Veterans Day, we see those struggles as incompatible with the holiday’s purpose. Persistent effort is required to bring about lasting change for our veterans who deserve better.
We’ve used this famous quote by Benjamin Franklin before, but it underscores the importance of Veterans Day and soldiers for whom the holiday honors. When asked what he and the founding fathers had created after they finished the U.S. Constitution in 1787, Franklin reportedly replied, “A Republic. If you can keep it.”
Due to the courage and service by veterans in the county today, and also across America, Franklin’s Republic has stayed together for 228 years. To all who have worn a uniform and come home, we thank you.