Veterans Day, 1995 Remembering wars: Someday perhaps no memories of them, only histories.

November 11, 1995

TODAY FOR THE 75TH time, Americans pause to honor its veterans. Hardly a locality does not observe this holiday. Respect for those called upon to interrupt their careers and those who chose to devote their lives to the calling of defender of the nation is nearly universal. This is true even when the wars the men and women waged were unpopular. Americans know that politicians and statesmen are responsible for starting -- or not preventing -- wars. Members of the armed services are responsible for ending them.

This year's Veterans Day comes at a time of a declining population of veterans. An estimated 26 million Americans once served in uniform. That is fewer that at any time since the late 1960s. Downsizing the military and that grim reaper, age, will combine to make the veterans force ever smaller in the years ahead. Assuming no wars come along to create the need for an influx of youthful patriots into the services.

That is a big assumption. Veterans Day started as Armistice Day. It began in 1921 as a tribute to those who fought -- and especially those who died -- in World War I, "the war to end wars." Three-quarters of a century later, the veterans of that war are little more than a corporal's guard. More than 99 percent of today's wartime veterans served during wars made necessary by the failure of that first world war and subsequent global and localized conflicts to establish a world without war.

Many Americans thought World War II would provide a lasting peace. That it didn't is attested by the fact that four and a half million of today's veterans served during the Korean War, and there are more Vietnam veterans in civilian life today than there are World War II veterans. Furthermore, a million men and women who entered the armed services after the end of the Vietnam War served in the Gulf War and have returned to civilian life.

We are still a nation of veterans. One American in 10 once wore the country's uniforms. The overwhelming majority of them did so during armed conflict, not peacetime. Some served in two, even three wars. The veterans are, of course, the lucky ones. More than 600,000 Americans who served in this century did not survive to become veterans.

Military careerists and those who lay down the plow and pick up a gun when the nation is threatened are equally deserving of honor, especially those who "gave their lives that [the] nation might live," as President Lincoln put it long before the first Armistice Day. We do so honor them today, hoping against hope and against all the lessons of history that someday there will be no memories, only dusty histories of battlefields and battle dead.

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