In a nation plagued by political division, it is right and good that Americans continue to find common cause in two holidays remembering those who’ve served in the country’s armed forces: Memorial Day, which commemorates fallen warriors, and Veterans Day, which honors those former soldiers, sailors and air personnel who still walk among us.
Today’s observance of Veterans Day is usually an occasion to look backward, touched by reflection on the services rendered by members of the military before they returned to civilian life.
But it’s also important to remember the continuing contributions that veterans make to civic life long after they’ve retired their uniforms. Since the United States was founded, the military has been one of our most promising laboratories of leadership. Those skills of command can be enormously useful beyond the armed forces, as the history of this country makes clear. Veterans have harnessed their experiences of service in civic, business and political life, enormously enriching the intellectual capital of the nation. U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona would not be the leader he is if not for his military career, nor would retired Gen. John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, be able to lead without the insights he gleaned in uniform. The role of the Army in shaping Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is another case in point.
Any superpower called to quiet a dangerous world must also remember the consequences of war. Veterans, those who have fought to protect this country and survived, hold the collective memory of what war really is. That is another reason why their wisdom is worth consulting – on this day and every day of the year.
But even veterans who did not experience combat are worth remembering today, too. Military service, even when it doesn’t call warriors to engage arms, can be an exhausting and lonely business, separating those who serve from their families, often for long periods of time.
Their service impacts spouses and children as well, and Veterans Day should be an occasion to be grateful for the sacrifices of every household that has sent a loved one off to the Navy or Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard.
In an era without the draft, fewer Americans have a direct connection with someone who has served in the military. And with the passage of time, those who helped fight World War II, the Korean Conflict and even the Vietnam War are dying out, too.
Those realities underscore the importance of honoring the veterans among us. November, a month that includes Thanksgiving, is the ideal time for Veterans Day, another day of gratitude for those who’ve made the deepest commitment to American liberty.