This Veterans Day, for the first time since the holiday was conceived in November 1919, there will be no large ceremonies in big cities and small towns to properly express our gratitude and appreciation of the men and women who served in the U.S. military.
Instead, 2020 will be remembered as a year of tremendous change and challenges. Yet, this year also notably marks 75 years since the end of another historic global event: The end of World War II and the subsequent creation of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs in 1945.
One of the most poignant aspects of our Oregon veterans community is that it is as diverse and united as the nation we serve.
Whether you are one of the 300,000 Oregon veterans who served in the trenches of Europe, the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Asia, the deserts of the Middle East or anywhere in between; on (or beneath) the world’s oceans, or in the skies above; here at home or overseas, in wartime or in peace; you are part of an unbroken chain of patriots who have served this country with honor.
Our veterans are moms and dads, teachers and doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs, social workers and community leaders.
Heroes like World War II paratrooper Bill Wingett — though he never embraced that distinction.
Private First Class Wingett was one of the original members of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a unit made famous by the book and HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.”
On June 6, 1944, he was one of 17,000 paratroopers to perform a night jump behind enemy lines five hours before the historic beachhead assault began. Along with other paratroopers from the 101st, he fought his way through to Normandy. He also served with honor in the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Bastogne and other pivotal conflicts until the war ended.
He was awarded the Bronze Star for his bravery during the Battle of Brecourt Manor and earned three Purple Hearts in separate engagements.
Sadly, Bill passed away only a few weeks ago at his home in Lebanon. He was 98.
The veterans of the Greatest Generation, serving nearly eight decades ago, are vanishing at a startling rate, as are the veterans of the Korean War generation. Five years ago, there were more than 17,000 WWII veterans living in Oregon. Today, there are fewer than 6,000. Their contribution and example must never fade from our awareness. The nation and the world they fought to protect will endure because of their service and sacrifices.
We also remember our fellow Americans missing in action, whose fates are still undetermined. We will not rest until we have made the fullest possible accounting for every life that was given in pursuit of our freedoms and preserving democracy.
We also pause to remember the men and women who did not live to be called “veterans.” Many of them rest in the hearts of our national cemeteries.
We also honor the families of the lost, who carry a burden of grief that time may lighten, but never lift, as well as all veterans’ family members. Their loved ones placed duty and country before their own lives.
America is known as the land of the free and the home of the brave, but this was never a given. It was earned by the blood and sweat of patriots who, generation after generation, dedicate themselves to keeping our nation safe, strong and free.
What veterans have given our country is beyond our power to fully repay, yet, on Nov. 11, we pause as a nation to recognize our debt.
This Veterans Day, although we adjust how we celebrate, I encourage you to join me and other veterans and civic leaders as we mark this important observation with our first virtual Veterans Day celebration.
The event will be streamed on the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ Facebook page beginning at 11 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 11.
Finally, on behalf of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, we thank you for your service.
Kelly Fitzpatrick is director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs and a retired Army officer.