The TV was burbling this morning with happy information about food freebies and discounts for veterans on this day -- a nice gesture but it felt a little trivial. It is probably not so trivial to the guy I see many mornings holding up a sign reading "Homeless Vet, Will Work For Food" at a downtown freeway off-ramp.
Originally, this day marked the Armistice that ended World War One. Europe had been devastated. A generation of young men had been lost. The United States had been drawn into our first European war and lost innocence and isolation. In thousands of ways large and small, that war determined the future: the airplane went from toy to terror in three years; Edwin Armstrong's "superheterodyne" receiver circuit made both broadcasting and reliable transatlantic radiotelephony practical; the Soviet Union emerged from Russia's agony; Germany was brought low, humbled by the victorious, and seethed with resentment; the Austro-Hungarian Empire was no more and the Ottoman Empire would totter on for only five more years after the end of the war. When the "War To End All Wars" staggered to an end, the seeds for many future wars had been sown.
Through it all, the soldiers carried the worst burdens -- gassed, shelled, bombed, shot, and doing the same back. Sometimes with enthusiasm, sometimes reluctantly, rarely refusing (most famously in impromptu "Christmas truces" in the early years, something their generals subsequently tried to prevent ever happening again). In WW I, soldiers fought lice, rats, inflamed gums, foot-fungus and poor rations in addition to their enemy. The warrior's lot has improved in subsequent years but even far from the fighting, it's still no bed of roses. It is fitting that the focus of this day, conceived in great solemnity to mark the formal end of a terrible war, has shifted to the men -- and women -- who have served and are serving.
A free breakfast may sound like a trifle as I lay in my warm bed, but it's a "thank you" for the veterans, a mark of respect for them and all those who came before them and will follow in the years to come. It behooves the rest of us to do as much on this day, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the day when, at the eleventh hour, the guns fell silent and the men manning them and the men they were aimed at could breathe a sigh of relief, however short-lived that respite proved to be.
Thank you for your service.
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