Veterans Day Speech
San Diego, California
This day, which began as Armistice Day, was originally set as a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I, which officially took place on November 11, 1918. In legislation that was passed in 1938, November 11 was “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.” This new legal holiday honored World War I veterans. In 1954, after having been through World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress — at the urging of the veterans service organizations — amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
A day to honor those who have served and now serve in uniform, as well as those who died in service to this great country.
Thomas Paine said, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” Many of you here today have borne that burden and experienced the fatigue of waging war in order to bring about peace. To you, I say thank you. Thank you for setting the example that inspired me and my peers to raise our hands in voluntary service to this great nation.
That shared service joins us together like no other bond. The camaraderie we share in military service helps define us. I can honestly say the time I’ve spent as a member of the United States Navy is the best of my life. Even after I left the Navy, it will stay with me and define me till the day I die.
I’ve always thought Veterans Day got the short end of the stick, holiday-wise. For many Americans, there is no official day off work, as there is for the July Fourth holiday. And many people view Memorial Day as the official day to pay tribute to service members from the various branches of the armed forces, who’ve given their lives in service to the nation.
And yet this day, Veterans Day, serves a very important purpose. It is the day we recognize not just those who have given their lives in war, but all those who have worn the uniforms of service. This day, above all, is an opportunity to celebrate the choice one makes to serve their country. For some, it meant the world wide conflict of WWII, or a lifetime of peacekeeping missions, or the tense standoff of the cold war. Others, in the jungles of Vietnam or in Korea, Panama, and other conflicts in which we have asked our military to serve over the years.
And of course we can’t forget that today, for many, service means multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, on active duty or as reservists, and Guard members who sacrifice twice when they give up their civilian jobs in order to serve our country.
Roughly 1 percent of our population serves in the military. And as we consider the impact those individuals have had on the world, defending freedom and protecting democracy, Winston Churchill once said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
So today, to honor that debt, I would ask you to take time to honor service members, past and present, in at least one of several ways.
First, volunteer to help a veteran or service member, regardless of whether you are a veteran or not. We have many wounded veterans in our world who need your compassion and your support. Find a way to help them, whether through Veterans Affairs offices or state and local government outreach programs. Given that we as a nation are at war today, there are many families in communities all over the country who could use a helping hand. For many of those on deployment, knowing their families are receiving support while they are serving in the armed forces can bring reassurance and peace of mind. There are dozens of ways you can show your support to our nation’s heroes.
Second, make an effort to promote military service for our youth. In a time of war, volunteers for service are hard to find, but I think promoting military service goes beyond that. We need to do a better job of letting our younger generation know that the military is a viable and valuable career option with unlimited opportunities.
And finally, if you are a vet, please share your story with others. Let everyone know what you’ve done so they can see the many faces of military service and appreciate the personal service of their neighbors. If you are not a vet, find someone in your life who is a vet and ask them about their service—or simply say thank you.
The more we talk about what we do and the impact military service has on our lives, the better able we are to hold it up as an example of excellence.
We have many, many examples of courage, service, and sacrifice to reflect on today. Let’s use this opportunity now, and on Veterans Day in the years to come, to celebrate service to our nation, to demonstrate the appreciation we have for our military and to inspire future generations to dedicate themselves in the name of the many who have come before them.
As Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Today, we give thanks to live in a country where citizens from every generation willingly and courageously raise their hands to stand the watch.
For all those veterans here today—thank you for your service and your sacrifice. I share the pride you feel in being able to count yourselves among that one percent — the greatest military in the world.
For all those not in the military, thank you for choosing to share this special day with us and show your support of our heroes, past and present.