VETERANS DAY 2009This past May, I visited the Normandy American Cemetery, and stood on the emerald green bluffs overlooking what is still called "Omaha Beach". For over six decades, the cold water of the English Channel has ebbed and flowed over the stretch of sand that once bore the weight of young American soldiers. Many of those courageous men never made it off the beach, and many more did not survive the bloody skirmishes and grueling battles in the weeks and months that laid ahead. Their buddies, the lucky ones, came home to a grateful nation, weary of war, but steeled by certain victory. Although those lucky ones had been forever changed by what they had seen and experienced, they simply wanted to move forward, like the nation that received them, with modesty and no regrets. They married, had children, went back to school on the G.I. Bill, and became the indispensable backbone of our communities, businesses, and government.
Recently, I met some of those indispensable men when over a hundred World War Two veterans from North Carolina visited Washington D.C. to be recognized at the national memorial built in their honor. Now in their eighties and nineties, they possess the grace and quiet reserve of men and women who have nothing left to prove to one another and to the nation that treasures their fleeting presence. Walking beside them with a steady arm or nudging their wheel chairs from behind were uniformed men and women of today's Armed Forces, many of them veterans of recent conflicts. The older veterans had come of age when every able bodied man and woman was expected to serve, when war demanded a mobilization the likes of which we may never see again. The younger ones of today's wars are all volunteers, representing and defending a diverse and often distracted nation of over three hundred million people.
For over six decades, the American people and our government have honored our solemn obligation to the Greatest Generation, but we have much work remaining to honor our compact with their sons and daughters and their grandsons and granddaughters who serve our nation in uniform today. This Veterans Day, we remind ourselves that the enduring fabric of this republic was protected by the men and women in the World War against fascism, preserved by those who served during the Cold War to stem communism, and it is kept strong and vibrant today by the deeds of a new generation confronting tyranny and terrorism.
This current generation knows the heartache of watching children wave goodbye for the third or fourth time in as many years, the frustration and anger of losing friends in an instant, and the painstaking, bittersweet taste of small victories that will never make the nightly news. They are coming back quietly to a grateful, but unfamiliar nation that many of them do not recognize. Their return home from war and the delicate and complex process of healing and returning to society is occurring at the same time this nation is distracted by economic anxiety.In this uncertain time, those of us who have not served and who are removed from the military culture must remember that these men and women are a resilient bunch, but they risk falling through the cracks without effective outreach and cooperation. Working on behalf of veterans can be tough, unglamorous, and unappreciated, but it is essential that we keep our promise to those who are living out their years in a nursing home or hospital, recuperating from wounds, or trying to cope with the lingering stress of combat. The boundless energy, dogged determination, and innovative ideas that come from our veteran organizations, local communities, charities, and within government must be encouraged and allowed to flourish. Our mission as citizens is to do what we can to ensure veterans are treated with respect, receive the care and support they deserve, and are again inspired to accomplish great things for the nation in the years to come. President Calvin Coolidge once said that the nation that forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten. I, for one, promise never to forget the sacrifices our veterans have made on our behalf. God bless America, and God bless her defenders.
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