Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, the holiday proclaimed by US President Woodrow Wilson on 11 November 1919 to mark the end of the “Great War”, also known as the “War to end all wars”, World War 1. Sadly, the very fact that the number one follows the words “world war” reminds us that another, even more terrible war followed only 20 years later. On 1 September 1939, World War 2 began. After the carnage of this second disaster, veterans petitioned the US government to change the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, honoring all veterans of all American wars. On 1 June 1954, this change became law.
Violence, evil and war are sad but real parts of the fallen world in which we live. Police protect us as individuals from violence at home, and soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines protect us from the greatest earthly threats, personal and even national destruction in time of war. Veteran’s Day is a time to remember those who have stood in the gap between America and her enemies. These men, and increasingly women, have guarded our freedoms and won the freedoms of others through their sweat, their tears, and their blood. All Americans must honor their sacrifice, and must consider what we as individuals can do for our country. All must be good citizens, paying taxes, obeying the laws, and working hard to contribute to their families and communities. Some must take the mantle of military service, taking the place of those who have gone before.
The following letter demonstrates the spirit of a man who truly understood the nature of his life and the necessity of sacrifice. It is one of my favorites. The letter was written in 1940 by the copilot of a Wellington bomber in Britain’s Royal Air Force, Flying Officer Vivian Rosewarne. He was killed in action shortly afterwards.
An Airman’s Letter to His Mother
Though I feel no premonition at all, events are moving rapidly and I have instructed that this letter be forwarded to you should I fail to return from one of the raids that we shall shortly be called upon to undertake. You must hope on for a month, but at the end of that time you must accept the fact that I have handed my task over to the extremely capable hands of my comrades of the Royal Air Force, as so many splendid fellows have already done.
First, it will comfort you to know that my role in this war has been of the greatest importance. Our patrols far out over the North Sea have helped to keep the trade routes clear for our convoys and supply ships, and on one occasion our information was instrumental in saving the lives of the men in a crippled lighthouse relief ship. Though it will be difficult for you, you will disappoint me if you do not at least try to accept the facts dispassionately, for I shall have done my duty to the utmost of my ability. No man can do more, and no one calling himself a man could do less.
I have always admired your amazing courage in the face of continual setbacks; in the way you have given me as good an education and background as anyone in the country: and always kept up appearances without ever losing faith in the future. My death would not mean that your struggle has been in vain. Far from it, it means that your sacrifice is as great as mine. Those who serve England must expect nothing from her; we debase ourselves if we regard our country as merely a place in which to eat and sleep.
History resounds with illustrious names who have given all; yet their sacrifice has resulted in the British Empire where there is a measure of peace, justice and freedom for all, and where a higher standard of civilization has evolved, and is still evolving, than anywhere else. But this is not only concerning our own land. Today we are faced with the greatest organized challenge to Christianity and civilization that the world has ever seen, and I count myself lucky and honoured to be the right age and fully trained to throw my full weight into the scale. For this I have to thank you. Yet there is more work for you to do. The home front will still have to stand united for years after the war is won. For all that can be said against it, I still maintain that this war is a very good thing: every individual is having the chance to give and dare all for his principle like the martyrs of old. However long the time may be, one thing can never be altered – I shall have lived and died an Englishman. Nothing else matters one jot nor can anything ever change it.
You must not grieve for me, for if you really believe in religion and all that it entails that would be hypocrisy. I have no fear of death; only a queer elation … I would have it no other way. The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice. We are sent to this world to acquire a personality and a character to take with us that can never be taken from us. Those who just eat and sleep, prosper and procreate, are no better than animals if all their lives they are at peace.
I firmly believe that evil things are sent into the world to try us; they are sent deliberately by our Creator to test our mettle because He knows what is good for us. The Bible is full of cases where the easy way out has been discarded for moral principles.
I count myself fortunate in that I have seen the whole country and known men of every calling. But with the final test of war I consider my character fully developed. Thus at my early age my earthly mission is already fulfilled and I am prepared to die with just one regret: that I could not devote myself to making your declining years more happy by being with you; but you will live in peace and freedom and I shall have directly contributed to that, so here again my life will not have been in vain.
Your loving son
The nature of life is that sacrifice never ends on this side of the grave. Parents sacrifice money, time, and much of themselves for their children, and this does not end when the children grow up and leave home. Children sacrifice for their aging parents, and we all sacrifice for the ailing in our family and friends. The rich give to the poor (Leviticus 23:22). Even the sick and disabled are not exempt; they give what they can for the benefit of others. Abraham was preeminent over Lot, but he still gave the younger man the first choice of the land (Genesis 13:8-12). The prophet Jeremiah sacrificed marriage and family for the sake of his ministry (Jeremiah 16:2). The widow had little, but she gave what she had (Mark 12:41-44). On the cross, the dying Jesus cared for the thief (Luke 23:42-43) and for His mother (John 19:26-27). No one is exempt from the requirement of sacrifice for the benefit of others, and that sacrifice has no end.
Flying Officer Rosewarne’s sacrifice ended on the next mission, but thankfully most veterans’ sacrifice does not. America has thousands of veterans who survived despite terrible injuries such as the loss of multiple limbs. Each of us must do our part to help them in their recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. We do this in part in gratitude for what they have done, but even more to help them prepare for sacrifices yet to come. Soldiers fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan for the benefit of their countrymen know something about sacrifice; that is why they serve. This does not change when they are injured. Though most can no longer serve in uniform, they can serve as teachers, businessmen, fathers, husbands, and in a thousand other ways. The same is true for injured female veterans. Like all of us, they will continue to sacrifice for the benefit of others to their dying day.
Veteran’s Day highlights the sacrifices of those who have served in uniform. Let us remember their sacrifices, and the sacrifices that we all must make, as we travel life’s highway.