The Last Veteran
Each November, we honor those who served their country in a branch of the military during times of war and in peace. The veterans of the Civil War that ended in 1865 have long since faded, history now remembers their service and struggles. World War I Corporal Frank Buckles, who was the last surviving veteran of that long ago war died in 2011 at the age 110. During World War II there were a little over 16 million that served in the military. Today, it is estimated that one million of those veterans are still with us and honored for their service. The war in Korea ended in 1953 and today there are over 5.5 million veterans who served in that conflict. The government did not declare war in South East Asia and called it a police action. History and those who served remember it as the Vietnam War. Today an estimated 7.5 million veterans of that war are still with us. Veterans from the first Gulf War are estimated to around 1 million that served in the Middle East. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are still ongoing today and those who are actively serving our country will join the long list of American veterans.
The names on the military honor roll numbers in the millions. It is on Veterans Day we honor those who have passed into the pages of history along with those still with us today.
Since 1900, the United States has sent men and women into harm’s way at least a dozen times in wars with given names. In 1900 it was the conflict in the Philippine insurrection. In 1916, soldiers fought in Mexico against Poncho Villa in the Border War. In 1917, the United Sates entered the First World War in France; some called it the “War to End All Wars”. During the 1920’s and 30’s the Banana Wars were fought in Central America. Then in the early 40’s, World War II and then in Korea in the early 50’s. From about 1955 to 1975 soldiers went into Vietnam to stop the advance of communism.
After those wars someone decided to give war a different name, we now know them as Operations. In 1983, Operation Urgent Fury-Grenada. In 1989, Operation Just Cause-Panama. Operation Desert Storm-Iraq was fought in 1991. In Somalia in 1992/93 soldiers fought in Operation Restore Hope. The year 1995 saw us fighting Operations Bosnia and Kosovo. In 2001, Operations Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan saw troops once again going in harm’s way. And today we still see soldiers in conflict in Operation Iraqi Freedom. A long list of wars and operations that has given us millions of American Veterans.
Given the history of our country, it is hard to believe there ever will be a day when the headline will announce there are no more veterans who have served in time of war or an operation. It will mean that America’s soldiers who served their country did so in time of peace and no one died having to defend our freedom. It will mean generations of Americans will have known peace.
Even before our nation formed, our country’s citizens fought and defended the idea that we are a nation of people who believe we have the right to be free and worship as we each believe. But those rights are anything but free. It is evident in the history of our country that idea has been defended in sweltering jungles, dry desert lands, cold country sides, and oceans around the world for centuries.
Next Tuesday on Nov. 11, we remember those who have worn the uniforms of our country in both time of war and in peace. These men and women after their military service return home to family and friends. They come home in hopes to enjoy the freedoms that they and others have paid so dearly to have.
This Veterans Day, there are others I hope you will remember and honor. They are those who came home from war with injuries or illness. Organizations work hard to assist and help those who have suffered with injuries or disabilities while serving in the military. Some veterans’ injuries are visible while others are deep within. No matter what the injury or disability, they are veterans who have served and came home to try and resume life while dealing with the lasting effects of war. It is up to us to never forget what they sacrificed for each of us.
For those who have been killed in war during our country’s history, many have been laid to rest where they fell. During the Civil War soldiers were often buried in graves and forgotten because records were not kept to let loved ones know of their location. During the first and second World War, soldiers were buried in cemeteries near large battlegrounds such as Normandy. In total over 125,000 American soldiers are buried in cemeteries around the world. Their families are notified their loved one has been buried in some distant land. This notification gives family and friends a chance to visit and grieve those lost to war. Around the world, rows of white markers bear the names of fallen soldiers. But, also among the rows are stones that bear no name for the soldier who rests there.
When fallen soldiers return home to this country they are often laid to rest in a cemetery among family members and remembered on Veterans Day. For some it has been decided that they will rest among others that have served and died, Arlington National Cemetery is one of these places. Each state has special resting places for its veterans. Near Grafton, in Taylor County is the West Virginia National Cemetery.
Even for those who return home and are unknown, we have chosen to honor them with a place in the National Cemetery at Arlington, they are known as the Tombs of the Unknown Soldier. War is a horrifying thing when it destroys all identity that tells who a person was in life.
There is one more group I would hope you will remember this Veterans Day. We remember them as those Missing in Action. These are the soldiers who never came home. MIAs are someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, mom or dad, brother or sister. They may have been the boy who you played Friday night football with or the red haired girl who lived down the street. During war terrible things happen and to those who suffer this fate, they may never return home to family and friends. They are listed among those who are missing.
At Arlington, inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are words that offer some comfort for those who read them and offer their remembrance. “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
For those who are missing in far lands, green jungles, dry desert sands, and in the vast depths of the blue oceans I offer these words. “In the great wisdom of time, the life of a person is measured in the difference made, not for themselves, but in their sacrifice for others. Those whose names are listed on the roll call of honor, ‘Missing in Action’ will someday be called before Him and honored for all to know on judgment day.” God Bless the American Veteran and those Missing in Action, as we pause to remember their sacrifices and hope someday the last Veteran will return home Through the Lens.