Several times each year, communities throughout the United States set aside time to honor our veterans.
Every spring, on Memorial Day, we honor those who sacrificed their lives in service to our country. The observation of Memorial Day started shortly after the Civil War. With over 600,000 Americans dying during the Civil War, people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line were mourning the loss of family and friends.
The grief and pain of death was so fresh and so great that every soldier’s grave was decorated the following spring. In recent years, we still use flowers and flags to mark the graves of our veterans, but the holiday is used to specifically honor those who died during combat. It is very appropriate that we do this.
On July Fourth, we celebrate the birth of this great nation. We also recognize that our freedom would not have been possible in 1776, and would not be possible in 2015, without the brave men and women, our veterans, who have made huge sacrifices for our freedom.
Tomorrow, we celebrate Veterans Day. This holiday has also evolved over the years. Veterans Day started as Armistice Day; marking the end of World War I. The ceasefire with the German army officially started at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
Immediately after the war, we started observing Nov. 11 as Armistice Day. In some places the holiday was referred to as Remembrance Day; a day to remember those who fought in World War I. Following the end of World War II, it was recommended that Nov. 11 become the day on which we honor all veterans; not just those who fought and died, but everyone who ever served in the armed forces of the United States.
Many people tend to confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Here’s the difference. Memorial Day is the day we officially recognize service men and women who died during the defense of freedom. Veterans Day is the day we officially honor everyone who served this country in the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard or Air Force; not just those who died, but everyone who ever served.
Official events that honor our veterans on Veterans Day are designed to be held on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Also, every program is timed to end with the playing of Taps at exactly 11 a.m.
In a very real sense, we simply cannot honor our veterans enough. This country still stands as the home of the brave and land of the free because of the devotion, dedication and sacrifices of our veterans. We live and work with our veterans. We see our veterans often, but we cannot, we simply do not, thank them enough.
It was an honor to be in Toledo on May 29, 2004. That was the day the World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. The event was simulcast at many venues across the nation. Fifth Third Field, the ball park where the Toledo Mud Hens play baseball, was reserved for the simulcast of that historic event.
Just before the dedication ceremony, a parade was held in downtown Toledo. Hundreds and hundreds of World War II veterans marched in the parade. As a member of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team from Dayton, we were tasked to march with the veterans. If any of them required medical care we were there to provide that assistance. I carried a portable, cardiac defibrillator in a backpack throughout the parade route.
At that time, 11 years ago, our WWII veterans were dying at the rate of 1,000 per day. We were committed not to lose a veteran that day. We succeeded. It was an honor to serve our veterans on that special day.
Two years later, I was served by an honor squad of veterans. My son, Danny, was a veteran. When he died, his coffin was draped with an American flag. When the Honor Guard crisply and smartly folded the flag, a member of the squad handed the flag to me and said, “It is with great pride and honor that I present this flag to you from the government of the United States of America in memory of Daniel Riley who gave excellent service to his country. May God be with you in your bereavement.”
After the flag was handed to me, not too far away, seven members of the honor guard fired a 21-gun salute. In the distance, a bugle played Taps. The members of the Honor Guard, all veterans, showed so much grace and love for their fallen comrade, my son, that I wept. I was overwhelmed by their respect.
Years later, I discovered that there are words and verses to the music of Taps. The final line in the song are these; “Thanks for praise; for our days; ‘neath the sun; ‘neath the stars; ‘neath the sky; as we go; this we know; God is nigh.”
God bless our veterans for their service. May God be with them always. God bless them.
Randy Riley is Mayor of Wilmington.
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