On November 11th, 1921, an unknown American soldier from World War I was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The date was purposely chosen in recognition of the ending of World War I at 11:00 am, November 11, 1918. Through Congressional resolution, in 1926, November 11th was officially declared "Armistice Day," and made a national holiday 12 years later. In 1954, in order to honor all American veterans of all wars, President Eisenhower signed a bill changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Though the date of Veterans Day was changed in 1968 from November to the fourth Monday in October, ten years later Congress returned the national observance to November 11th, a date historically, and personally, significant to many.
Veterans Day, however, is more than a mere date on the calendar. It is a day we should acknowledge and extend our appreciation to our nation's veterans. And when we do, let us not regard the wars so many Americans fought as a collection of impersonal dates, facts, or names. Rather, let us contemplate the individuals, the men and women who left their daily lives and their loved ones behind to make tremendous personal sacrifice on behalf of our country.
This Veterans Day, I acknowledge my great-great grandfather, Peter. Peter was a private in the Union Army, 23rd Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Company G. Despite rheumatism, Peter joined the Union Army at the ripe "old age" of 47. Peter was an illiterate Irish immigrant, a laborer, who left his wife, and six children behind, to fight for the Union cause. It is quite humbling to know that someone related to me, the "father" of our family here in the United States, actually wore the Union uniform, fought the skirmishes, ate the hardtack, slept on the ground, and lived the Civil War.
Most especially, I honor my father. My dad enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II, became a heavy machine gunner with the 165th AAA division in New Guinea, Philippines, and participated in two major battles: the invasion of Hollandia and the invasion of Biak. When I think of my father as a young man, watching San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, and all that he held dear, disappearing behind him as he departed the states, I am struck by the fortitude of someone so young. When I think of him, a non-swimmer, wading ashore with the infantry in Biak, in neck-high water, rifle raised above his head, I can't imagine how he felt. When I envision him living and fighting on the beach in Biak for five days, sleeping on the ground, turning his shoes upside down to prevent lizards from crawling inside, eating spam and beans out of a can, washing his socks and clothes in the river, I am once again struck by his perseverance, and courage. When I think of my father, a sweet, loving man, watching his comrades fall, his friends die, I am amazed, and ever thankful, that he survived in one piece, and through the grace of God, returned home, and built a life for himself. My father is a remarkable man, as are all veterans of all wars. Their sacrifice is untold, unfathomable; the example they set unmatched.
To my great-great grandfather, Peter, thank you for your courage. And to my father, of whom I am and always will be tremendously proud, thank you for your service, and your sacrifice in WWII. You are my hero.
To all veterans, God bless. May peace be your's.