Today is Veterans Day, which honors those who served in the U.S. military. As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website explains, the holiday has its roots in the celebration of Armistice Day, the cessation in 1918 of World War I hostilities at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day in the United States. Over the years, Armistice Day was broadened to become Veterans Day and, in 1975, President Gerald Ford signed a law that officially designated Nov. 11 as Veterans Day. As the VA website notes, this day is meant to “honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
Eighteen million Americans — or just about 7% of the adult population — were veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That means that the overwhelming majority of us have not worn a military uniform, and have not experienced combat or deployment — or indeed any of the stresses that come with military life.
And so we are deeply indebted to those who have. They have assumed the burden of defending this nation in war, exemplifying its democratic values when they’re dispatched to other countries, and serving their fellow Americans in times of disaster and crisis.
In whatever war or conflict they served, they did so selflessly, making sacrifices on behalf of our beloved nation — sacrifices the rest of us only can imagine.
In a column published in the Sunday LNP | LancasterOnline Perspective section, retired Rear Adm. Jan Hamby and retired Maj. Dale Hamby, of East Drumore Township, detailed some of the sacrifices they made in their decades of military service.
As newlyweds, Dale Hamby served in the 82nd Airborne Division in North Carolina, while Jan Hamby was sent to Washington, D.C. Not long after Dale finally joined her in Washington, Jan was sent to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. She took their 9-month-old daughter with her, and he followed many months after.
“Several years later, Dale headed to Boston with the two children we then had and Jan was left to follow,” they wrote. “And so it went.”
Their many deployments overseas caused one or both of them to miss “birthdays, anniversaries, school events and other special occasions,” they noted.
And they made more solemn sacrifices, too: “We lost friends in combat and military training. We put ourselves at risk during time of war, and in some cases, literally dodged bullets.”
They did so without hesitation, they wrote, “because we were committed to serving this great nation and the values for which it stands.”
With their two children, they lived in more than 25 different homes throughout their military careers. They never had a chance to build equity in a home. And their children had to grow accustomed to being the “new kids” every place they went.
The day after they dropped off their daughter to college, they boarded a plane to Italy. And, they wrote, a “few years later, we put our son on an airplane to fly back to the U.S. so he could start college.”
Their son was 17 at the time. Now he serves in the Navy, too, so he clearly inherited his parents’ sense of duty. The Hambys wrote of how moving around so much gave their children “an appreciation for people’s differences in culture and habits” and the recognition “that America prospers when global security allows other nations to prosper.”
Still, when their children were young, the Hambys worried how their military service and the multiple relocations affected their kids. It’s a worry that other parents who have served no doubt will recognize.
When a son, a daughter, a mother or a father serves, the whole family serves. And so families of veterans deserve our gratitude, too, today.
The phrase “thank you for your service” has been uttered so often to veterans that it’s become a cliche. But they truly deserve our thanks, and not just on Veterans Day.
Dale and Jan Hamby rightly point out that veterans deserve more than just a thank-you. Jobless veterans — including those with disabilities — deserve our help in finding employment. Their skills, honed in military service, ought to be valued. Veterans also deserve top-notch medical care, including mental health care.
We may never be able to match their level of sacrifice, but we could make a start by wearing masks and adhering to social distancing guidelines, trading a bit of our personal comfort for the common good. It would be the least we could do, really — for older veterans, and those with disabilities, who are at elevated risk for serious COVID-19 outcomes, and for the rest of our community.
As U.S. Army National Guard Brig. Gen. David E. Wood wrote in an LNP | LancasterOnline op-ed last November, veterans “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.”
Veterans, wrote Wood, director of the Pennsylvania National Guard Joint Staff, “are a strong and capable cohort of people that can be counted on to be steadfast when our nation struggles.”
Our nation is struggling now. Faced with a surging COVID-19 pandemic, we could use the strength and steadfastness cited by the brigadier general. We can look to veterans to show us how it’s done.