The first Veterans Day was observed on November 11, 1919. Then-President Woodrow Wilson said that it should be a day “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.”
Across the generations ever since, American Presidents have spoken eloquently on the importance of this day of remembrance and other days saluting America’s veterans.
We have heard President Dwight D. Eisenhower say, “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose.”
On November 11, 1961, at Arlington National Cemetery, President John F. Kennedy said that “these quiet grounds, this Cemetery and others like it all around the world, remind us with pride of our obligation and our opportunity.”
President Ronald Reagan, offering words to commemorate the 40th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1984, said, “We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.”
Moreover, from President George W. Bush, “We will not tire. We will not falter. We will not fail.”
A reaffirmation of these sentiments occurs throughout this region’s communities on Veterans Day. It is striking to reflect on the common landmarks standing as everyday reminders of the guiding principles and underlying strengths of our nation: city, town and village halls, county courthouses, churches, schools, volunteer fire departments, local public libraries. These fundamental American places still speak to the guiding lights of our nation and her endurance as the world’s leading democracy.
Perhaps most powerfully, however, on Veterans Day every year we are drawn to the cemeteries, monuments, and memorials that rise up to honor those who have served and sacrificed, as well as to salute those who still do. We gather throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions to honor the sacrifices and the victories of our soldiers – past, present, and future. By doing so, we reaffirm our pride in this nation’s servicemen and servicewomen and, of course, we turn our thoughts and prayers to all of the soldiers whom we have lost from here at home.
Since the tragic unfolding of September 11, 2001, this generation has realized, all too painfully, that our homeland’s freedom, peace, and safety can be threatened at any moment. We realize, as well, that our troops always stand ready. The freedoms we cherish have been hard-won by the soldiers of previous generations and by those of this generation who have continued to serve and make the ultimate sacrifice. They are true American heroes. We are grateful to each one of them and, as President Bush once said, we can never tire in honoring their service.
Sacrifice is the fundamental truth of Veterans Day, and it inspires our deepest gratitude and respect.
The echoes of former Presidents remain fitting – and poignant – to hear again on Veterans Day, when we indeed live in a time of great obligation and opportunity. We continue to gather in common purpose to remember. We continue to salute the contributions and the sacrifices of our military men and women, living and deceased, past and present. We never fail to honor their heroism.
On Veterans Day, we carry on this essential observance.