Some of the most poignant images shared via social media as Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast featured uniformed sentries at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery, solemnly standing watch despite torrential wind and rain.
They were images of respect – respect for the nation’s fallen heroes, respect for those who serve in the military, respect for those willing to defend ideals of freedom and liberty upon which the United States was founded.
On this Veterans Day, we should reflect upon those images and remember the debt owed all who serve and have served in the nation’s military.
It is appropriate to remember the Tomb of the Unknowns on Veterans Day, not only because it serves as a reminder of the debt owed those who have given their lives for our country, but also because the first of the “unknowns,” a soldier killed in battle in World War I, was entombed on what would later become Veterans Day.
On Nov. 11, 1921, known then as Armistice Day, the remains of an unknown soldier originally buried overseas were relocated to Arlington as a means of providing recognition for all the nation’s brave soldiers whose final resting place was a grave without a name, but not without honor.
Armistice Day originally was in recognition of the end of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson established the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month for the first commemoration of the wars end. After World War II, in order to recognize all the nation’s military, the holiday was changed to Veterans Day.
Through the years, the unknowns from too many wars have been added to the sacred ground of Arlington, as those entrusted with the defense of the nation have paid the ultimate price for their commitment to ideals and principals.
It is fitting that this year the celebration of Veterans Day comes so closely after our national elections, providing us with a timely and certain reminder that the republic we hold so dear is as dependent upon the strength of the nation’s military as it is the participation of its people in the electoral process.
Sadly, the government and the governed have not always shown to those willing to serve the respect they are due. As they return from conflicts in the Middle East, for example, too many of our soldiers lack for appropriate medical care, mental health counseling, adequate benefits and the economic opportunities necessary for a return to civilian life.
But on this day, at least, they can be made to feel that we as a nation appreciate their efforts and their sacrifice. If you have a chance today, tell a veteran thanks. And if not, do it tomorrow, or the next day. Let’s make every day Veterans Day, starting on this the 11th day, of the 11th month.