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Biddeford, ME - Veterans Day is a time to remember current war, too


Veterans Day is here again, giving us all time to pause and recognize the contributions of all those who have served in the armed forces, past and present.

It’s a good time to remember that this day was originally called Armistice Day, made a legal holiday in 1938 by the federal government as a way to recognize those who served in World War I. It commemorates Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., when the cessation of hostilities was agreed upon between the Allies and Germany.

The government resolution in 1926 to recognize Armistice Day noted that it “marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals.”

Had that only been true.

Though WWI was all of those things at the time, WWII certainly topped it in human misery, destruction and impact and we’ve seen a few more wars since, though not on such a large scale. We’ve been in wars at nearly all times throughout the past several generations: WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the seemingly never-ending series of wars in the Middle East, from Kuwait to Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 1954, the name was changed from Armistice to “Veterans” Day, so as to include the veterans of WWII. Did those who urged the change know then how many others would come to call that day their own as well – the living and the dead, their sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren?

Attitudes toward veterans have ebbed and flowed with the tide of war, from the cheerful parades after WWII to the spit and disdain of Vietnam. In this very paper, readers were urged 50 years ago not to patronize businesses that stayed open on Veterans Day, out of respect for veterans, even as some shopkeepers decided that the day off meant more business for them. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there were tears from some military supporters over the low turnout at veterans events in Sanford.

Today, patriotism is running strong in York County, from the USO-style show for veterans in Sanford to the Rolling Thunder motorcycle fundraiser rides. It’s in the efforts of Rep. Don Pilon, who worked hard to get the yellow ribbon license plate approved; Pam Payeur, who started the Wounded Warriors Foundation to help veterans get their federal benefits and other help after her son was injured in Iraq; the volunteers who place flags on veterans’ gravestones every Memorial Day; the staff and volunteers at the hospitals and homeless veteran shelters throughout the nation; the students and government board members who take time out of their day to say the pledge of allegiance; the youth groups, politicians and public service personnel who march in Veterans Day parades; the community groups that send care packages to the troops; the flag-waving public who line the streets, and so many others.

We’ve at least learned our lesson from the mistreatment of veterans who served in Vietnam. The tone has become “support the troops, even if you don’t support the war,” and many people who want all our forces pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan yesterday won’t hesitate to pick up the tab of the veteran at the next table in a restaurant or get a yellow ribbon license plate to help military families.

We’re becoming more educated now about the sacrifices these men and women make to serve U.S. military interests overseas, leaving their family, friends and any comforts of home behind. The spread of technology and proliferation of media have helped us to understand what they’re doing there, the dangers they face and the successes they see.

It’s important to remember that while Memorial Day is for the dead, Veterans Day remembers the living. We’re still at war. People die for our country every day in the effort to spread democracy and freedom.

 The least we can do is take a moment out of our day to attend a parade or ceremony, reflect on what military service means and to be grateful for all the liberties, opportunities and freedoms we have as Americans, thanks to those who put everything on the line. The most we can do, aside from serve, is to support the troops by making a donation to a veterans organization or donating our time to lend a hand to a military family.

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