FRANKFORT – Veterans Day is always a special time to recognize and honor those men and women who have served our country, but this year’s holiday is particularly noteworthy because it falls on the 100th anniversary of the event that inspired it: the armistice that effectively ended World War I.
Although the official conclusion of that conflict was still months away, all that mattered to those who had lived through it was the end of the fighting. That moment arrived on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
President Wilson helped to cement that date of remembrance a year later, when he said Americans should be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory” in the war.
Veterans Day as we know it arrived in the mid-1950s, when the country understandably decided to broaden Armistice Day to honor those who had served in World War II and Korea and in the years when we were not at war.
Overall, there have been about 40 million men and women who have worn our nation’s uniform since George Washington led the first troops during the Revolutionary War. Around half of them are still with us today.
They’re an integral part of our communities – they’re our family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors – and many still are serving, either on active duty at places like Fort Knox and Fort Campbell or in the National Guard and Reserves. Their contributions, both in uniform and in private life, have been invaluable.
Kentuckians can take pride that we’ve always given a little more than most. During the War of 1812, for example, our state suffered more casualties than every other state’s total combined.
It was a Kentuckian who was one of the first Americans to die in World War I, and it was a Kentuckian who was our country’s next-to-last survivor of that war. It was a native Kentuckian who led the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor when it was struck during World War II, and it was a Kentuckian who was among the handful of Marines to raise the flag at Iwo Jima, a moment memorialized in one of the most famous war photos ever.
Kentuckians also served with distinction in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous other posts around the world.
Around 60 have been awarded the Medal of Honor since the country’s highest military honor made its debut during the Civil War. The newest was added this past summer, when First Lt. Garlin Conner was recognized posthumously for his actions during WWII.
Late last month, meanwhile, Camp Nelson in Jessamine County was designated a national monument, to honor the role it played during the Civil War. The camp was one of the country’s largest Union recruitment and training centers for African Americans.
According to the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, there are little more than 300,000 veterans living here in the commonwealth. Over the years, the General Assembly has sought to help them in any way we could.
That includes opening four veterans-only nursing homes and establishing state-run cemeteries that complement our national ones. Veterans Day is now a state holiday, and veterans are given preference for state government jobs and paths that make it easier to use their military service training when applying for similar private-sector jobs.
There will be numerous activities this weekend and on Monday to celebrate Veterans Day, so I encourage you to attend, if possible. For those who are veterans, I want to thank you for your service and for the price you and so many others paid for our freedom and security.
This Veterans Day – and every day – we as a nation should recall the words of President Kennedy, who said that “as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”