Today is Veterans Day. Although it lacks the religious trappings of Easter, the gift-giving spirit of Christmas, the communal sharing of Thanksgiving and the fireworks of the Fourth of July, Veterans Day is a significant holiday and one Americans should proudly celebrate. Since 1921, the nation has recognized the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform in all wars on the occasion originally known as Armistice Day.
As troops from the two world wars and the Korean War have died, as those from Vietnam grow older and with the all-volunteer service having replaced the draft, the symbolic importance of Veterans Day has been declining. There are still parades, candle-lighting ceremonies, speeches, gun salutes and the playing of taps. But for too many Americans, Veterans Day has become a respite from normal office routine or a chance to take advantage of special sales at the mall.
We can and should do better. Our veterans, collectively representing the finest in the American character, come from every race and ethnicity and every walk of life to answer the country's call to defend our shores. Throughout history, they have endured some of the worst physical conditions and faced death and injury to keep us free and our constitutional rights secure.
Now our troops, all volunteers, are fighting in the treacherous mountains of Iraq and Afghanistan in the war on terror. In this country, thousands of veterans are homeless or destitute. Many need psychological counseling from the strain of multiple deployments. Still others, those in the National Guard and Reserve units, return home to find that civilian jobs are disappearing and their homes are worth far less than when they left.
We owe them and all the others before them a debt we cannot repay in equal measure. What we can do, however, is to salute them on this day for their sacrifices. Without our troops, in the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, "all our annals would be meaningless and our great experiment in popular freedom and self-government a gloomy failure."
While the ailing economy became the top issue in the presidential election, let us all remember that the nation remains at war. Today is the time to honor the 25-million men and women who have served and who continue to serve our nation with honor and distinction.