Today, we proudly salute our war veterans for their unselfish service to the nation.
This day—Veterans Day—was formerly called Armistice Day. As every school boy and girl learned in his or her history course, armistice day marked the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the guns of World War I ceased firing.
There were 4.7 million American participants in that war. More than 116,000 died in the service. There are today 400,000 living veterans from that war.
One of every 22 Americans had worn a military uniform in "the war to end all wars." The impact was felt in every community of the nation. It was only natural that the anniversary of the signing of the armistice should be a special occasion.
Accordingly, President Woodrow Wilson expressed the meaning of the first armistice anniversary in these words:
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us, and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."
From that first anniversary in 1919 until 1953, the ceremonies on November 11th officially paid tribute only to those who were a part of the American Expeditionary Forces of 1917.
It was not until June 1954, that President Eisenhower signed a bill which designated Armistice Day as Veterans Day. Since that time, Veterans Day has been a tribute to the veterans of all of our wars. It also has become a day of assessing the contributions of the living as well as recalling the deeds of the dead.
Armistice day had been a time for looking backward. It was a day of remembering—and of rightly remembering—deeds that cast glory on our arms and on the spirit of the American soldier.
Although the past is important, that importance derives not from the past alone, but rather because the past holds lessons that—rightly learned—can guide us as we approach the third millennium.
This imperative to focus on the present and future, rather than being satisfied to glance once again at the past, was best expressed by Archibald Macleish in his poem, "The Young Dead Soldiers." Poet Macleish wrote:
The young dead soldiers do not speak.
And when the clock counts.
We were young. We have died. Remember us.
We have done what we could
But until it is finished it is not done.
Our deaths are not ours,
They are yours,
They will mean what you make them.
Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope
Or for nothing
We cannot say.
It is you who must say this.
We leave you our deaths,
Give them meaning,
Give them an end to the war and a true peace,
Give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards,
Remember us. [unquote]
Giving meaning to these deaths can be more difficult than celebrating some deeds on a battlefield. Still, we owe them a response. What shall it be? What are our responsibilities?
The first responsibility is to recognize the reasons for the sacrifice and deaths of our veterans.
They died while serving their country . . . because their country called upon them in times of great need.
They knew that only those who crave and cherish freedom can ever enjoy its fruits.
The veterans of every war we have been in tell us that the pursuit of freedom remains unfinished business, requiring each generation to renew the pledge to continue the sacrifice needed to maintain it.
The memory of our veterans and the cause for which they fought keep the flame of freedom burning. We must remain informed about the issues that threaten our security. We can act as responsible citizens only with the knowledge of the threats and challenges that face us in the contemporary world and with the knowledge of what it is that we must defend.
We also must want to preserve, untarnished, our heritage for our children. This involves service . . . Of our willingness to sacrifice leisure, comfort and even life, itself, for the sake of freedom.
Our second responsibility is to recognize the 30 million living veterans who are the nation's greatest source of patriotic power.
During the history of this country, we have been involved in 10 major armed conflicts. Some have been fought on American soil and others carried out in foreign countries.
Nearly 39 million Americans have participated in these wars, and more than 90 percent of them have served during the 20th century. More than a million people have sacrificed their lives in defense of this nation during periods of war.
Our veterans are a great investment in the preservation of freedom. They have seen war. They know that war destroys people and their land.
No one hates war more than the veteran; no one loves peace as much as the veteran. For the veteran has paid the greatest penalty in war.
Our veterans are uniquely qualified to support efforts for peace. All of us are grateful for their past contributions to ensure freedom, and can count on their patriotic power in the future.
That leads to the third responsibility in giving meaning to our war dead. That responsibility is to use our military power for peace.
Today, our total army stands as power for peace.
The all-volunteer Total Army is a formidable military asset . . . Using the strengths of the active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve . . . In addition to Army civilian employees.
Simply stated, the Total Army mission is to deter any attack upon the United States national interests and, if deterrence fails, to engage and defeat any enemy in any environment.
The first emphasis is on deterrence, in line with our desire to maintain peace. To prepare for whatever task it must perform, the total army has established seven goals.
Let me briefly cover these seven goals, because I feel they will help you better understand what the army is doing to preserve peace and freedom.
First, the readiness goal calls for a Total Army prepared to deter war; to fight and win, if deterrence fails; and to terminate the conflict in such a manner so as to provide the united states and its allies with an acceptable level of security.
Second, the human goal stresses a Total Army composed of military and civilian professionals who loyally serve their nation in rewarding careers.
Third, the leadership goal means a Total Army with leaders at all levels who possess the highest ethical and professional standards.
Fourth, the materiel goal ensures a Total Army equipped and sustained to win any land battle.
Fifth, the future development goal calls for a Total Army that operates in an environment that encourages innovation and which is receptive to new approaches through processes that develop, evaluate, accept or reject new concepts.
Sixth, the strategic deployment goal prepares a Total Army organized, manned and equipped so as to be capable of deploying to counter a wide spectrum of threats.
Seventh, the management goal provides a Total Army which efficiently uses the available resources.
Of course, all of these goals have to be applied in the daily operation and training of Army forces. The challenges are there. Commanders and soldiers are determined to succeed in meeting these goals, but need your help.
The Army wants your support in providing the kind of forces it needs. It is imperative that public confidence and pride in our soldiers and in what they do be maintained. Military service must always be a hallmark of honor for those who continue to carry the torch for freedom handed them by our war dead.
On this Veterans Day, let us be guided by the lessons from the past wars. From the first president to the present, the message has been the same: preparedness.
George Washington wrote:
"To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."
President Reagan said in his inaugural address:
". . . Peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it—now or ever."