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Veterans

The very word veteran has come to mean experienced and deserving of respect when applied to any profession.  The veteran actor, waiter, chef, seamstress are those to whom we turn, on whom we can depend, in whom we trust in any profession.  That implied meaning of respect was earned for the approbation “veteran” by those for whom the term was coined more than five hundred years ago: soldiers.

I remain in awe of those who would choose to put themselves in harm’s way on my behalf.  We are all leading the lives that we lead because there are those in our history – recent and distant – who are willing to die for the rest of us and what we all say we believe.  The American Century, as this past one is called by us at least, is one in which we reluctantly stepped onto the world stage and took on the mantle of leadership held by other older countries for many centuries before.

We are a superpower today not because of the bombast of the loud mouths who run for office and make wars, but for the small, individual sacrifices of too many people to thank.

So today, on the day that the peace accords were signed in the “War to End all Wars,” we choose instead to celebrate not hollow victories or bloody battles but the people whose work every day makes everything else possible.

Today, I would also like to pay special tribute to those who choose to stand up for a country that did not stand up for them.  I salute the black men who fought and died in a segregated army in World War II.  I take my hat off the Japanese Americans who fought for this country while their families were in internment camps back home.  I  pay tribute to the brave women who fought for the right to fight for mine and today leave behind traditional “second class” roles for the honor of facing death to protect us all.  And today I especially honor those men and women who must deny who they are and who they love to defend a country that asks them to lie as part of their duty.

Don’t ask Don’t Tell compromises the honor of all concerned by asking good men and women to lie to protect the feelings of bigots.  What it does not do is prevent these honorable gay soldiers from stepping up to serve their country with bravery and distinction.

We are a country founded on high ideals.  In many ways we aren’t there yet.  But we get closer all the time.  Sometimes it’s legislation that moves us along.  Sometimes landmark court rulings bring us closer to liberty and justice for all.  Sometimes we have had had to fight for those rights on real, not just ideological, battlefields.  But sometimes it is the small personal acts of bravery like taking a seat at the front of the bus or serving in honor and in silence that advance the lives of us all.

It’s easier to see and reward acts of bravery and sacrifice on the battlefield and it’s worth doing.  But that’s not what Veteran’s Day is about.  Today is set aside to celebrate all those men and women willing to make the choice, despite the risk, despite the prejudice, despite the hardship to those they care about most, to advance the causes great and small that make us a better people.

In our quest to be the best that we seek to be, we would be hard pressed to find a better example than our veterans.

Thank you for your service, not just the ones we can see and hang a medal on, but for serving as models of our best selves and leading us toward those ideals that we say we hold to be self evident.

 

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