Honoring Those Who Serve: Veterans Day 2014

Each year, on November 11, America celebrates the brave, selfless men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Unlike Memorial Day, which honors only the fallen, Veterans Day recognizes every individual who has answered the call to defend their country. Initially known as Armistice Day, the holiday was first by proclaimed by Woodrow Wilson in 1919 to commemorate the end of World World War I; the official cessation of the “Great War’s” hostilities had occurred at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the year before. In his address, Wilson declared,

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

The original celebration included a halting of all business activities for two minutes beginning at 11am and a day filled with parades and other public gatherings.

An 1938 Congressional Act made Armistice Day a legal, federal holiday. Following the heroism of American servicemen during World War II and the Korean War, the annual commemoration was expanded to include all veterans, and Veterans Day was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 1, 1954.

60 years later, we are a nation that has been at war for over a decade… made up of a fortunate populace largely unaffected by the far-flung conflicts being waged by our military. It’s become a cliche to talk about the gulf that divides the lives of those who serve from those of the average American; while the former voluntarily gives all to defend our nation’s very existence, the latter sails contently along, distracted by the frivolities of the social media age: Twitter, Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians. Sadly, such banality has sucked the truth and real emotion out of those statements: we acknowledge the sacrifice, we superficially understand the heroism, but we no longer feel it. Too many of us no longer truly realize how lucky we are, ironically, because those who are fighting have done their part to make us feel safe. That is, until we’re confronted by the reality: when we see the wounded warrior pushing through adversity that would truly cripple us, or when we watch the video of the excited daughter finally reuniting with her uniformed father. That’s when we get a glimpse of what serving your country truly means for those who take up the cause, and for those who love them.

It always angered me when opponents of the Iraq War would confront its proponents with the same tired logic: “If you support the war, why don’t you go fight? Why don’t you send your son or your daughter over there?” That always missed the point: I couldn’t do it. Most people, and most people’s sons and daughters, couldn’t do it. The ones who serve are the best of us, and they are the best of us because they walk away from everything; not just the material nonsense but the truly important parts of life: mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, newborn children that have not yet even uttered their first words. They do it to spend months or years treading through the unpronounceable cities, the living nightmares where death is perpetually a moment away, all to stand side by side with their buddy in the name of something honest and just and good. And then they come back, mourning lost friends and suffering lost limbs, filled with memories that will haunt them for a lifetime, and they persevere. They continue to fight. It would do us all good to remember that more often, to appreciate more fully what these men and women in anonymity and to celebrate them more frequently than one day a year.

I recently came across the story of Army Sgt. Dan Rose, who was paralyzed from the chest down, the result of a bomb blast in Afghanistan. Rather than give up, Dan has endured: utilizing a revolutionary robotic “exoskeleton”, he has regained the ability to stand and walk:

Rose’s drive and determination are reasons one of his doctors nominated him to receive one of the first of 10 suits being purchased and given away by the Stamford, Conn.-based nonprofit Soldier Socks.

“A big question was, can you find a person who will utilize the Ekso Bionic suit as a full user rather than the exercise bike that sits out and gathers dust in the garage,” said Dr. Ken Lee, who heads the Spinal Cord Injury Unit at the Milwaukee Veterans Hospital.

Rose has been an enthusiastic participant at the clinic, mentoring others and signing up for hand-bicycling, water-skiing and kayaking.

“He is one of these people who is not a couch potato,” Lee said. “This suit is not going to sit around in his living room as a trophy. My only concern is that he’s going to overuse the suit and get into a medical problem, although there haven’t been any medical problems reported by users.”…

Rose remembered the first time he sat down and strapped into the machine. He leaned forward and pushed down on the crutches. The suit came to life and lifted him to standing position.

“You’re standing at eye level with everyone in the room,” Rose said. “It’s a nice change of perspective. You kind of forget what it’s like.”

It struck him another time when he stood up next to a physical therapist who was shorter than him.

“I felt like a giant,” Rose said.

Let Dan Rose, and all of the veterans, be an inspiration to us all.