Veterans Day celebrates the survivors of war
By Joe Olvera ©, 2011
Veterans Day is about survivors. Some veterans fought the ravages of war – many were killed in the heat of battle – blown up by land mines, or torn apart by machine gun fire. Some imploded from within, their bodies torn apart by grenades and other weapons of mass destruction. We honor these men and women on Memorial Day when the United States remembers those who were killed in war. Yet, there were many survivors, many who escaped the evil, but, sometimes necessary, battles for survival.
These survivors are known as veterans. These are the ones the nation celebrates on Veterans Day, Nov. 11 of each year. There are parades, there are solemn occasions to remember those who survived and who came home limping or destroyed in one way or another to their hometowns all over America. But, sometimes, these veterans, those who survived military service in war time or in peace, are forgotten. Their service, their sacrifice is tossed to the four winds because people forget what it meant, what it means to be a veteran, to have survived the ugly ramifications of war.
To Javier Diaz, a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps, Veterans Day should be a yearlong remembrance, with school students being taught the history of what the day means, lest they forget. “This is the day, a special day, for us to remember that not everyone who went to war was killed. Many of us went to war as young kids, but, returned home as grown men. Many of us gave up the comforts of home to go fight in a war which we didn’t always understand. From World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, and, now, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we went, we fought, we came back. But, came back to what? To forgetfulness, to misunderstandings, to continue through life as if nothing happened, as if we weren’t part and parcel of what transpired.”
Diaz wants for Veterans Day to be recognized, not just on its special day, but, throughout the year. He wants especially for young people to be aware of what it means to be a veteran. “It should become a part of the schools’ curriculum all over the United States,” Diaz said. “They should learn what it means to be a veteran because there is not enough emphasis, it’s become an annual event that loses focus as soon as the day passes. But, it shouldn’t be that way, We must never forget what it means to be a veteran.”
Veterans Day, first known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, November 11th was chosen as the Day because World War I ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, when the Germans surrendered and signed the Armistice. In his proclamation for Veterans Day on 11/11/11, President Barack Obama states:
“…On Veterans Day, we pay tribute to our veterans, to the fallen, and to their families. To honor their contributions to our Nation, let us strive with renewed determination to keep the promises we have made to all who have answered our country’s call. As we fulfill our obligations to them, we keep faith with the patriots who have risked their lives to preserve our Union, and with the ideals of service and sacrifice upon which our Republic was founded…Now, therefore, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America do hereby proclaim November 11, 2011, as Veterans Day. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice our veterans though appropriate public ceremonies and private prayers…I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.”
Not all who returned home from war came back unscathed. For example, Diaz, a retired school teacher, suffered frostbite while fighting with the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. “We called it the Frozen Chosin because temperatures were 30 to 40 degrees below zero. Ice formed inside our rubber boots, my toes suffered from frostbite, and, even today, my toes are blackened and have been this way for years. It was a veritable nightmare, with people dying left and right. But, I survived. I don’t know how, but, I survived. I guess I was just lucky.”