This week we celebrated Veterans Day, and I was asked to say a few words at one of the local events honoring these brave men and women. It was an easy task. As part of my preparation, I asked my speech students to write a note expressing their thoughts on what our veterans had contributed to our country. Even those who rarely complete an assignment seemed excited to turn in this one. Many mentioned loved ones who had fought -- or are currently stationed in other countries -- and how much they appreciated the sacrifices made. Several recognized and thanked these heroes who had missed many family memories because their duties took them far from home. Some of my students indicated plans to go into the military, but others admitted they lacked the courage to do so. Most wrote that we take these men and women for granted, and one of our foreign exchange students thanked our soldiers for "making this a beautiful country," and that, because of them, "no aliens will ever attack us." Needless to say, I included that in my talk to our veterans, as well as the following excerpts:
Please know that you are appreciated. It is no secret that most people go to their grave wondering if they made a difference, if they did anything worthwhile, if they mattered. You, veterans, don't have to ask that question. What you have contributed to our nation is so monumental it cannot be measured, for we all know that freedom -- that for which you have sacrificed -- is never free. It comes at a great price, a price you paid by setting aside personal ambitions and dreams to assure the well-being of our great nation. You have given a part of yourself to this country by defending the freedoms we hold so dear.
Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC, understood your importance. It was he who wrote the following:
It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the organizer, who gave us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag and who allows the protester to burn the flag.
You are our heroes. Three years ago, I had a student who refused to stand for our morning Pledge of Allegiance. It was all I could do not to remind him that the only reason -- the only reason-he had the freedom to sit in that chair and not rise was because of what that flag -- and the men who fought for it -- represented. Fortunately, we are now in an era where you patriots are being recognized and esteemed, where people like me tear up when we approach military personnel in airports and thank them for what they have done for all of us.
Someone once said: "This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave." You are the extraordinarily brave ones whose commitment represents devotion and love of our great country, and you should wear the title "veteran" proudly, for it is one that can never be taken from you. Your uniform might not fit you anymore, and perhaps you can no longer do the same number of bear crawls or survive on the rations you once did, but you will always be a veteran. And for that, we Americans are deeply, deeply grateful. Thank you for your unwavering service in peacetime and war, here in this nation ... and throughout the world.