On Monday — Veterans Day — as this is written, the U.S. military is standing up for its latest mission.
As the nation marked the holiday with parades, American flags blew in the breeze aside gravestones, and we offered thank yous to the brave men and women who have spent all or part of their lives in the defense of this nation, Marines from the 3rd Expeditionary Brigade were flying toward the typhoon-ravaged Philippines to offer help, bringing emergency supplies and communications equipment. Navy P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft were combing the island from above, assessing the worst damage and searching for survivors in a tragedy that may have claimed 10,000 lives.
It’s just another day, another mission, for America’s fighting men and women. And now, people half a world away will embrace U.S. Marines with the same gratitude we saw here at home on Monday.
Our country may have been founded on an idea — that all people are created equal and have inalienable rights — but it took soldiers to take that idea from ink on parchment to the reality that has endured for 237 years. It took the force of arms and the sacrifice of blood to make America into a nation, and that sacrifice continues to the present day, in foreign lands a world away, where a new generation— aided by American soldiers — struggles against oppression for the right to live free.
In between, America’s soldiers have been tested again and again, and have always done their duty, even during the bitterest war of all, the Civil War, when every death in combat was an American death.
As the Marines sing, Americans have fought in every climate and place where it’s possible to take a gun, from the searing heat of Iraq deserts to the brutal cold of the Aleutian Islands, from the humid jungles of Vietnam to the dry tundra of North Africa. Americans have fought in wars both hot and cold, wise and unwise, ever mindful of their mission to keep their country safe. And while we rarely think about it, Americans are on duty at every moment, around the globe, standing fast at their posts so the rest of us may live our lives in peace and security.
It’s at times such as this, on Veterans Day — when we stop to offer our thanks and gratitude for the unending task of vigilance that is the price of freedom — that we realize how hollow our words of thanks are when laid next to the sacrifice of a mother who has lost her son, or a child who will never know a parent. Those of us who have lived our lives in peace, who have never heard a shot fired in anger, can never know the terror, or the bravery, known by America’s fighting men and women. We’ll never stand a mid-watch on the darkened bridge of a ship in hostile waters, peering into the gloom for the enemy. We’ll never endure a frigid night, waiting anxiously for an attack that could come at any minute. We’ll never fly on high alert, waiting to match our skills against the best pilots our enemies can throw into the sky.
For most of us, those are things we’ll see only on a movie or TV screen. But for many in our midst, those things are all too real. Those few who have stood up for the rest of us, to serve our country with honor and diligence, deserve so much more than we can give them. Yet we still owe them our gratitude, our thanks and our respect. Our nation would never have been born without them, and would surely perish in their absence.
God bless every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman and National Guard member — along with their families and parents who wait anxiously for their safe return, to lives of peace that they’ve well-earned.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.