LEESBURG, VA — Over the last 150 years American wars have been fought on foreign soil and returning soldiers have traditionally been tight lipped about the horrors of the battlefield. This understandable silence can lead many of us to forget the extraordinary sacrifice our military volunteers make without complaint or fanfare.
My grandfather fought in World War I, having suspended his education at Princeton to enlist and fight as a “doughboy” in the trenches of France. He slept with a candle near his head to ward off the cockroaches, and his best friend was fatally shot in the head while fighting next to him, but he never discussed those experiences. He wrote his mother cheerful letters from the front, while describing his grisly experiences in letters to his brother who was stationed in Georgia. My father was an Army infantryman in World War II. During most of his five years in the military, he was stationed in Europe where he fought in France and Germany until VE Day. He seldom spoke of his service and never mentioned the combat injuries that qualified him for a purple heart.
I describe the experiences of my departed forbearers not because their circumstances were unusual or rare, but because their attitude toward serving their country is typical among Americans in uniform. It’s a remarkable and selfless trait that should be honored and remembered by every American more than on Veteran’s Day each year. Unfortunately, “Fighting for American Freedom” is a hackneyed phrase that has lost meaning to those who neither remember the possible outcomes of losses in WWI or WWII, nor know some young person who has returned from a recent tour in the Mideast.
On this 2014 Veteran’s Day, let us commit to remember our selfless soldiers every day in the coming year. And, let us hope that someday mankind will progress to the point that the sacrifices of combat are a thing of the past.