Honoring our veterans

In my humble opinion, we have two days of thanksgiving each November. Sure, there is the turkey-consuming national holiday which falls on the fourth Thursday of the month, but there is also our chance to thank the past and present members of our armed forces for their sacrifice, patriotism and service to our nation. I refer of course to Veterans Day, which we celebrated yesterday.

The origins of this holiday stretch back to 1918, when on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, an armistice agreement went into effect marking the unofficial end to “the war to end all wars,” which we know as World War I.

This year’s Veterans Day marked the 90th anniversary of the first celebration of this holiday, which was known as Armistice Day until 1954. Over time, it has become a day to recognize all veterans for their service to our great nation and the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make on behalf of our country.

Each year on this day, our service men and women as well as those who fought before them, are feted with parades, ceremonies and wreath laying in communities across America. Many of these events are planned by veterans themselves, through organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion family.

Last year on Veterans Day found me in Norwich’s West Park taking in the parade and ceremony held annually in the county seat. I was moved by the procession of veterans in the parade, the flag-waving school children, the patriotic score of the marching band and the roar of motorcycle engines from the American Legion Riders contingent bringing up the rear. Tears filled my eyes as those we gathered there to honor saluted the colors while the voices of the Madrigal Singers rose together in singing our national anthem. It was a solemn event, filled with dignity, reverence and respect for our veterans.

My colleagues attended the Norwich event again this year, but I elected instead to drive to McDonough, where American Legion Post 1478 held a ceremony of its own.

The post, housed in an old school house acquired in the 1950s, has gotten a major facelift this year. Its sparkling white facade, trimmed in patriotic red and blue, shone in the late-morning sunshine, and I paused before going in to appreciate their efforts and attention to detail. As I stood there, I couldn’t help thinking that it was so appropriate to be taking it in for the first time on Veterans Day.

In keeping with tradition, the McDonough ceremony started precisely at 11 a.m. in further commemoration of that momentous cease fire that ended what we unfortunately now know wasn’t the war to end all wars.

I stood in attendance with approximately 30 local residents, many of whom were veterans, and listened to the somber script read at American Legion Posts across the country. As each of the post’s officers spoke in turn, I could feel their words sink into me and feel the full weight and significance of the ceremony. And as we all joined hands afterwards to sing “God Bless America,” the debt we owe our veterans and the men and women in our armed forces, truly hit home.

I wasn’t the only guest at the McDonough ceremony. Assemblyman Cliff Crouch also attended the ceremony, and as he addressed those gathered he took the time to do something that I think too often we forget. He thanked each of those veterans in attendance for their service, and extended that gratitude to all those who continue to fight for our freedom every hour of every day.

I am always touched by the outpouring of support for our veterans and our troops around holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day. But truly, these men and women, who personify honor and courage, deserve that support and heart-felt gratitude every day. They, and their families, are the ones who sacrifice to keep our great nation free.

Let us never forget the dedication, commitment, effort and sacrifice of those who have served in our military. They deserve nothing but our continuous respect, recognition and appreciation.

“Think of the fearless men and women who put on a uniform every day to make our liberties possible – because there are no freedoms, without those willing to fight for them.” Wayne LaPierre

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