I had the honor of addressing a crowd of veterans and our community to commemorate the 100th anniversary of signing of the Armistice ending World War I. The text is printed below.
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for coming out today to honor those men and women, past and present who have served in our Armed Forces.
This occasion is a special one, as it was a hundred years ago today that our forces in the Army Expeditionary Force serving in France heard the news that Germany had signed the Armistice. We are a long ways from the days of horse drawn artillery and biplanes, and it is hard to imagine the sacrifices our doughboys made during that terrible conflict, or the exhilaration, relief and excitement those men and women felt just a hundred years ago today.
A year later, on November 11, 1919 President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation on the first anniversary of Armistice Day, the official end to World War I. In this proclamation, President Wilson spoke about this Nation’s contribution to the conflict in Europe. “…We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought. Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert… To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with – solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory…”
That’s tough to follow
Of course, many speeches have been made on this day over the past century to honor the men and women who have served in our Armed Forces.
This is not new, of course. Even in Ancient Greece an annual event was held to honor those who had fallen in battle. The Athenian General and historian Thucydides recounted the speech made in the 5th Century BC where Pericles discounted the value of these speeches. “These men have shown themselves valiant in action, and it would be enough, I think, for their glories to be proclaimed in action… our belief in the courage and manliness of so many should not be hazarded on the goodness or badness of one man’s speech.” My hope today is that you, too will judge the actions and bravery of our veterans on their merits and not the quality of the speech you are listening to.
Pericles went on to proclaim that since it was indeed custom to have such a speech he would endeavor to do his best. We should do likewise here today.
It is proper on such an occasion to first remember our ancestors… those veterans who throughout history fought with valor, and handed to us a free nation.
- From the pioneers, British regulars and colonial militia who fought to tame the country and keep other colonial powers at bay
- the state militias and continental army that threw off the chains of tyranny
- Marines who fought pirates on the coast of Tripoli freeing trade routes and protecting American interests
- Or the US regulars repelling British invaders in 1812
- Brave men of the Army and Navy faced the Mexican Army, and secured Texas and California for the US
- Patriots fought and died in the civil war for what they believed in
- Brave men fought alongside Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam
- Our ancestors fought to establish and preserve a nation based in liberty
And then came the 20th Century
- Small wars throughout the hemisphere in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Dominican Republic
- Our forbears secured our reach, our trade and provided a buffer from the colonial powers in Europe who would dominate the west
- Our grandfathers then joined forces with freedom-loving people in Europe against the Kaiser and began the end of the age of Empire, escorting out the German, Russian, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires
- They went to the Pacific and returned to Europe just a generation later, ending the designs of the 3rd Reich and the Japanese imperialists
- A Cold War ensued… with the occasional flare-ups in Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere… and brave men and women, our grandfathers and grandmothers stood side by side to defeat the threat of global communism.
And here our fathers and grandfathers added to our inheritance and handed to us, their sons and daughters, a great nation and the premier world power.
And this was mine and my brothers and sisters’ turn, our time to do honor to those who came before us and to pick up the mantle handed to us from our ancestors, those veterans who shaped our world…
I joined the Army in 1988, a 17-year-old enlisted member of a mortar platoon in B Co, 1-181st Infantry, Massachusetts Army National Guard. My father, an Army Major swore me in. He also administered my Oath 5 years later when I was commissioned as an officer.
I have seen the world change. The later part of the 20th Century saw a change in how wars were fought… smaller wars with few clear battle lines emerged, and at the dawn of the 21st Century we began to see what others have experienced through history: the scourge of terrorism, the deliberate use of violence against innocents…
I have been able to observe our men and women in uniform first hand in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Our ancestors, grandfathers and fathers have much to be proud of…
So this, the next Greatest Generation has gone forth on foreign soil to bring the battle to those who would do us harm. And they have fought bravely, and served proudly. Moreover, they volunteered to do so. The men and women who join today know full well what they are signing up for.
But where do these great volunteers come from? Fewer than 1% of Americans choose to serve in our Armed Forces, and 79% of Soldiers come from Families that have served.
And many of them have since come home, and returned to the communities where they came from. Each year we transition 120K men and women from the military… and these are today’s veterans. We have been at war for more than 17 years now, and we now have the largest population of young veterans since Vietnam.
Who are our veterans? They come in all different shapes and sizes now. We are blessed to still have over 500K of the 16 Million Americans who served in World War 2, including over 5,000 right here in Arkansas. These men and women are usually easy to spot…
But don’t hesitate to thank them for their service, to ask them to tell you their stories… Sadly, we lose more and more of these great folks every day…
Today’s veterans seem to blend in a bit more. They come from every demographic you can imagine: of the 227K veterans in Arkansas they are of every age and every ethnicity, men and women. They are students and truck drivers, electricians and carpenters, lawyers and doctors, police and firefighters… and I am proud to say that 231 of them are US Army Corps of Engineers employees helping to keep our waterways open, fight floods, protect the environment, produce hydropower and maintain many of the great lakes around the state.
Our nation has come a long ways since the post-Vietnam era where veterans endured the abuse of those that opposed the war. Today, our nation seems to be proud of those that would stand up and serve… People today are able to separate their thoughts or feelings about the war and the Service members who are tasked to carry it out… rarely do I walk around in public in uniform without someone thanking me… and I always return the thanks. I am grateful for their support.
I do have to say, though, that I feel the thanks doesn’t belong directly to me… there are so many others who have sacrificed more than I have. Our military families who put their lives on hold every time their service member deploys… The parents of young troops who watch their children go into harm’s way. These are people who also need our thanks and support.
And some of our veterans who have returned from overseas have faced difficulties… suicide rates and opium addiction among veterans is far too high, as is homelessness. The Veterans Administration and the Army’s Soldier for Life programs are helping, but it is truly the communities that welcome back their veterans that makes the difference in these lives.
There is no substitute for the support of a community: veterans reconnecting with family, friends, church and community groups is the clearest path to reintegration into our communities.
For all of you involved in supporting and reintegrating our Veterans, thank you for what you do. Your service is invaluable.
I am so proud to serve this great nation, and I am proud of the communities, the men, women and children who gather at events like this to honor those who have served. I am proud of the all-volunteer force that provides us with amazing men and women willing to stand up and be counted. I am proud of the service they provide and the freedom that service secures.
Thank you all for being here to support the veterans of the greatest military force in history. With your support, nothing can stop us.
God bless you all, God bless our troops
And God Bless America!