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Honoring veterans since 1918

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Stephen Wilson
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Commander
This year, we gather here together as Joint Partners and Allies. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. Americans, Aussies, Brits, Canadians and French. There are many names for this holiday: Veterans Day; Armistice Day; Remembrance Day -- many names that have one thing in common, commemorating the end of hostilities for the Great War. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month... 91 years ago, the guns of World War I stopped firing as the Armistice went into effect, thus ending the worst conflict in human history. The numbers of casualties are staggering -- 211,000 Australians, 241,000 Canadians, 2.5 million from the United Kingdom and 321,000 from the United States. These young men were cut down in the prime of life. They served in the hopes that their sons and daughters, children and grandchildren could live in a world free from fear and war.

Although Armistice Day began as a day to remember the sacrifice of our World War I veterans, it has grown into something bigger. Now we honor their memories while also paying tribute to all veterans, pausing to honor the brave fighting men and women of past and pre-sent who have underwritten our freedoms by their duty, honor, and selfless service.

Whether you wear the uniform today, or wore it decades ago, the veteran represents a fundamental truth. It's not the powerful weapons that make our militaries the greatest in the world. It's not the sophisticated weapons systems that make us the most advanced. The true strength of our Armed Forces is seen in the men and women who have worn and now wear the uniform of our nation's military.

Veterans Day 2009 finds us again at war. Like those before us, we have continued to answer the call to support and defend our nations and freedoms by serving around the globe in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and here in Southwest Asia.

It is fitting that we pause to reflect on this holiday. All of us, veterans of war ourselves, need to take time to honor those who have gone before. Those warriors who have given something of themselves to their countries, who have given everything by laying down their lives to defend the freedoms we hold so dear.

In every generation, brave patriots have stepped forward and served honorably in the Armed Forces of their nations. Today is no different -- our veterans have paid with their courage and honor. They have defended freedom through both the best and worst of times and they have performed their difficult duties tirelessly, with little recognition or fanfare. Veterans sought neither fortune nor fame. Instead, veterans past and present are compelled by a deep love of country and a commitment to liberty that moved them to serve our great nations.

So, today we are humbled by the sacrifices of those veterans who have gone before us. Yet, also we stand here as members of a proud legacy. Today we carry on their fight for right and freedom. I can see across this entire base how this unbroken line of heroes continues the work of veterans from bygone eras. Each of you embodies what makes our nations so great. Your selfless service and devotion to duty makes each of you a source of inspiration for the entire world.

You are your nation's best -- heroes who have repeatedly triumphed over adversity. You know what it is like to stand on watch in the heat of the desert or fly over the skies of those countries struggling for freedom while others sleep. You understand the meaning of hardship; defeating evil at freedom's frontier far from loved ones. Despite all this, you endure, and it is this devotion to duty that gives our nations the strength to carry on.
For the time you spend in uniform, the interests of the nation always come first. These burdens are shared by family members who make many sacrifices of their own, sometimes bearing permanent loss - but there are rewards. There is the pride of developing one's character... of becoming a leader and serving a cause far greater than any self interest, and the nobility of protecting our nations. Every man and woman who wears the uniform of our Armed Forces is part of a long, unbroken line of achievement and honor. No military powers in history have done greater good, shown greater courage, liberated more people, or upheld higher standards of decency and valor than the Armed Forces serving today.

To those who served in wars past and to the veterans of today's war, I have a simple yet heartfelt message -- thank you, all of you, for your service. It is important and right that I remind all that your example serves to inspire others who follow in your footsteps. Thank you for your selfless-service in peacetime and war, here and throughout the world.