David E. Wood

David E. Wood

As we celebrate Veterans Day weekend, let us take a moment to think about our great nation and the veterans that live among us.

Our veterans come in all genders, races, ethnicities and creeds. They joined or were drafted to protect our country and, after their service, returned as civilians to a land of opportunity and dreams.

The United States is a diverse and vibrant nation because, despite our differences, we are a nation of hope. As Americans, we are bound together as a community that believes in our future. Our nation was built by men and women who worked for something more than the condition they were given by birth.

Our optimism as a nation should not be extinguished by fear, anger or tension in our political leadership.

Our veterans understand that to be successful in life, you must think about others. The history of our nation is bound by periods of great challenge. The greatest of those challenges have arguably been caused by outside influences. Hostile nations who brought war to our shores or to our allies have brought out the best in Americans and our belief in democratic values.

Terrorist organizations that threaten our way of life and adversarial nations that seek ways through cyber, economic or diplomatic means to limit our greatness continue to challenge American exceptionalism.

Through these decades of strife, our veterans have been the core of our population that has lifted us out of the darkness. The have served as our nation’s witness to provocation and evil, and have been the “tip of the spear” in responding to such challenges.

The defense of our nation is first and foremost the highest priority we have in preserving our nation. Veterans are the continuity that have ensured the safety of people and the continuity of our government. Veterans living among us today have faced the enemy during World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, Vietnam, and the global war on terrorism.

Future veterans (those serving today) are guarding liberty across the world, providing not only an early warning for us on the homefront, but a narrative for those citizens of foreign lands on the values and goodness of our nation.

Our veterans represent our communities at home. They are an example of what it means to be resilient; to face challenges and strive to overcome them. We know that as a nation, there are times we fall short. During these times, our veterans provide the rest of us with an example of strength in the face of adversity. They understand the concept of “getting back up, dusting off your boots, and moving forward.” Veterans are not just a segment of our population in need of health care or a free cup of coffee. They are a strong and capable cohort of people that can be counted on to be steadfast when our nation struggles.

Veterans can be counted on to give a hand to those who have fallen. As the late John McCain so aptly stated, “We are Americans first, Americans last, Americans always. Let us argue on differences. But remember we are not enemies, but comrades in a war against the real enemy, and take courage from the knowledge that our military superiority is matched only by the superiority of our ideals and our unconquerable love for them.”

Our veterans have been trained to be America’s defender of freedom. Their sacrifice is not for personal gain, but rather for the satisfaction of knowing they have served to protect our families, our communities, our American land.

Yes, the historical failings of our nation are well documented. Slavery, civil rights, and ill-treatment of Native Americans are a few of the stains that we struggle with as a nation.

The Vietnam War, in particular, separated our nation in ways not seen since the Civil War. Our Vietnam-era veterans came home to an ungrateful nation. A nation divided. Despite the pain, these veterans overcame the insults. They embraced their families and never gave up on their country.

Today, these same veterans are leaders in their communities. They are Patriot Guard Riders, members of veteran and church organizations and homeless shelter volunteers. They understand, perhaps more than anyone, that we as Americans are not perfect. But they know that their service in harm’s way, as well as their service in our communities today, is all part of the continuum that makes us a great nation.

Today our nation remains deeply politically divided. We all have doubts and fears as we hear and read the latest news. We are suspicious of those who do not agree with us, and are quick to point out each other’s shortcomings.

We are, however, one country, one nation that has been through trials and tribulation before and will go through more in the future. It is these challenging times that tear at the scars of our nation, and divide our citizenry.

Our veterans can and should be steady influencers of national unity. They understand that not all things make sense, but they have the wisdom and experience to know that steadfast belief in our country will moderate our society and hopefully, bring us together.

U.S. Army National Guard Brig. Gen. David E. Wood is a Manheim Township resident and director of the Pennsylvania National Guard Joint Staff. This column reflects his personal views, not the official views of the U.S. government or Army National Guard.