And just like that, the calendar, once again, turns to Veterans Day.
For me, like many of my fellow veterans, Oregonians and Americans, it is a time to reflect and take stock. One year ago, we “gathered” for a Veterans Day unlike any before it, in a virtual environment that gave us some flexibilities that we never had before, but we had to forego the warmth of being with other people.
Now, as we cautiously return to an environment more closely resembling normalcy, it’s appropriate to take stock of all that we have to celebrate. We as a country have much to be thankful for, and much of it is thanks to our veterans who fought for freedom and stood guard over our peace, and to our fallen heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.
We remember our World War II veterans, the sadly dwindling “Greatest Generation,” who have much still to teach us about the importance of self-sacrifice to a greater cause. Some 80 years ago, these brave men and women left their homes and families to answer the call — not only for their own country, but the world.
We honor our Korean War veterans, who fought in the “Forgotten War,” which came so soon after the Second World War that it is often overlooked. In a foreign land, they endured freezing conditions and disease in addition to an unrelenting enemy, often against impossible odds, and made a lasting contribution to world peace and prosperity.
We thank our Vietnam War veterans, who, regrettably, did not receive the heroes’ welcome that they deserved upon returning home from battle, and this remains a painful stain on our national memory that we must work hard to erase.
Yet, these remarkable men and women refused to turn their backs on their fellow veterans. Vowing that another generation of service members would never face what they had to endure, many of them remain engaged in serving their fellow veterans.
We remember our veterans who represent the peacetime era, serving under the near-constant specter of the Cold War and prepared to confront any enemy that might threaten national security around the globe. Many of them engaged in so-called “small wars” in Grenada, or other military operations in far-flung nations such as Bosnia, Somalia and a host of other nations on the African continent.
And, we honor our veterans of the conflicts of the Middle East and Afghanistan. Many of these veterans entered the Armed Forces in the wake of the terrible attack on September 11, 2001, and fought and sacrificed to ensure that the United States would not experience similar attacks.
Thankfulness, gratitude, honor and remembrance: This is the duty and responsibility of all Americans who have not worn the uniform — and it is these principles that are embodied in the more than 75-year tradition of Veterans Day.
Originally known as Armistice Day, the occasion celebrated the Allied victory in World War II. It was motivated by a simple, two-word phrase from the heart of our country: “Thank you.” Gratitude is a simple yet powerful thing. It has a way of humbling us, bettering us and reminding us of what’s most important.
We have much to be thankful for: The freedoms and way of life that we have long enjoyed, the peace that has been secured for our children and grandchildren — it is our veterans and service members we have to thank for that: Brave men and women who answered the call, ready to face the fire and, if necessary, pay the ultimate price on our behalf.
That’s my message this Veterans Day, and every day, to all who wore the uniform, regardless of branch, era, rank, duties, race, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation, religion, creed or ability: Thank you for your service.
Please consider joining me and ODVA for our Oregon Statewide Veterans Day Ceremony, which will take place at 2 p.m. Nov. 10 — the day before Veterans Day — at Oregon State Capitol Park, directly across from the front entrance of the Capitol Building.
The event will take place in person and outdoors, with social distancing and mask requirements in place. It will also be streamed on ODVA’s Facebook page at facebook.com/odvavet.
Kelly Fitzpatrick is the director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Governor Kate Brown’s policy advisor on veterans’ issues.
She is a retired Army officer. Her military awards and decorations include multiple awards of the Meritorious Service Medal, the Southwest Asia Service Medal and the Army Parachutist Badge.