Sacrifice. According to Merriam-Webster, it’s defined as “the act of giving up something that you want to keep.” There are sacrifices large and small; in some ways, we’ve all made sacrifices. And yet, who among us truly understands the spirit of sacrifice? What is it, and who is really qualified to pass judgment regarding who has or has not made the greatest sacrifices? Today is Veteran’s Day, and I would like to take this opportunity to say my piece regarding what I believe the true sacrifice is: the spirit of sacrifice is found in those who have served in our military. Veterans understand sacrifice in ways those who have not served are unlikely to ever understand, and, frankly, those who are unable to fully grasp the spirit of sacrifice should probably be grateful. Sacrifice is a painful, cutting experience, and it is one slowly being lost with each generation.
One of the greatest parts of my job is sitting down with veterans and hearing their stories. From a tenacious survivor of the USS Indianapolis – and if you don’t know that story, you should definitely check it out – to a Vietnam veteran who served with MACV-SOG and relayed some truly chilling stories, being given the gift of hearing these tales is just that: a gift. The opportunity to talk to veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam is something no one should pass up and something I can never pass by. A trip to a local fast food restaurant last week ended up being a chance to hear the stories of an elderly bomber pilot; a visit to Costco a few months back resulted in my standing in the electronics section listening to a Vietnam veteran talk about what were, at the time of his service, highly classified missions. And as unique as each and every story is, they all have one common thread: sacrifice. From the World War II vet who’s been in a wheelchair since 1944 to the Vietnam veteran who endured being spat on and assaulted not just by war protestors but by the families of men he served with, men who were killed in combat, their sacrifices have not been small.
During World War II, 11.2% of this nation served; of those, 671,846 were wounded and a staggering 405,399 were killed in action. By the time Vietnam rolled around, just 4.3% of the population served – and remember, there was a draft going on – and of those, 153,303 were wounded and 58, 209 were killed. And today, as we fight the War on Terror, only 0.45% of our nation’s population is serving. Of those, 32,223 have been wounded in Iraq while 4,487 were killed in action in Iraq; 19,964 have been wounded in Afghanistan, and the last reported number of American deaths in and around Afghanistan was 2,251. It’s heartbreaking to see the cold, hard numbers outlining those lost, but it’s also disheartening to see the rapid drop in numbers of those willing to serve. The spirit of sacrifice that drove our grandparents and great-grandparents is clearly dwindling, but why?
There have always been various reasons one joined the military. Some join because they don’t know what else to do after high school; some join because they’re given the choice between jail time and military service, and still others join for the G.I. Bill. And although there have always been different reasons, the reason that drove literally all of my grandparents to enlist seems to be fading into the background today, and that reason was really quite simple: patriotism. The desire to serve one’s country simply for the sake of serving – or, yes, for the chance to kick some enemy tail – is seen in decreasing numbers, and perhaps that is to blame for the drop in numbers. One would think that as our population increases, the numbers of those enlisting would at least hold steady, if not increase; instead, fewer men and women than ever are joining. And of those who join, it seems more do so for the benefits than for the flag. So what has happened to patriotism?
It’s been gone from the foreground of our lives for some time, and it’s been systematically removed from the background of our lives for years. When I attended grade school, we said the Pledge of Allegiance every single day. We also knew how to fold the flag and were aware of the rules for raising and lowering the flag, and, by God, we knew to respect our veterans. Veteran’s Day was a big deal at our school; we were encouraged to bring a service member from our family into class to talk about their experience, and we were made well aware of the sacrifices they’d made for our country, and for us. And although the Pledge began to be removed from schools a long time ago, it was in 2002 that the Ninth Circuit Court banned it entirely. Removing the Pledge from our schools is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to figuring out what’s become of patriotism. Without patriotism, you see, our military will lose the very foundation upon which it was built.
That’s not to say we don’t have patriotic men and women serving, because we most certainly do. There are those among that 0.45% who enlisted out of sheer love of country and a desire to fight for what they believe is right, and for them I am grateful. Because, you see, once we lose sight of the very things this nation was built on, we’ll be well on our way to losing everything. But for every one of those serving who has a deep love of country burning in their chest, there are several more who do not; it is a state of affairs that would shock my military grandparents. And here we come full circle to sacrifice.
We have become an entitled nation. What would we do without our smart phone, tablets, and $5 lattes? It’s been proven time and again that losing power for a matter of days results in a disaster of epic proportions, and all because people are entirely unable to look out for themselves – or to help one another. There it is. Sacrifice – and the refusal to do it.
It was actually a veteran from one of the older generations who suggested we stop and take a look at the lack of understanding true sacrifice in the world on this Veteran’s Day. Our grandparents and great-grandparents survived the Great Depression and the many hardships of World War II, all things we today cannot even begin to fathom. Can you imagine being the wives left home today being forced into dramatic life changes because the men are away at war for years without end, having gas strictly rationed, metal severely limited, and such necessities as socks and knit hats for our service members being so valuable other items are literally torn apart to make those items available for those at war? And as those at war, can you imagine being away from loved ones for four years straight? During World War II – and earlier wars – it was incredibly common for boys too young to enlist to lie about their ages for the opportunity to serve. They weren’t lying because they wanted benefits, either; they were lying because they flat-out wanted to fight. They wanted to fight for this country with a passion most of them can’t put into words even today. Their sacrifices were physical, emotional, and mental, and if you ask, they’ll tell you they’d do it all over again.
There are those among us in the military who do understand the nature of sacrifice. There are the Edward Lychiks and Noah Galloways who have literally lost limbs while serving in our military, the Kyle Carpenters who have lost an eye, the Marcus Luttrells who watched their brothers die in combat; those who shall remain nameless who have lost a piece of their reason, of their peace, while serving. Those suffering from PTSD who are either ashamed or afraid to ask for help, and those who are now homeless after being unable, for one reason or another, to cope with the sacrifices they made during their service. Those who have watched their families be ripped apart as a result of whatever they went through in combat.
Sacrifices are being made every day, and although only 0.45% of our population is serving, oh, what a group it is. They are the few, the priceless, those willing to write a blank check for everything up to and including their lives. And while there are those who join for reasons we may not understand, there are still quite a few who joined for love of country, or who realized after joining that what they’re fighting for is worth more than any benefit will ever be. And whatever their initial reasons for joining may have been, they did it. They joined. And that’s more than 99.55% of the population is willing to do for any reason.
History.com actually gives one of the most succinct explanations of the roots of Veteran’s Day: “On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War.” Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning the following year, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veteran’s Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars.”
Today, on Veteran’s Day we remember the sacrifices of our nation’s veterans, which began the day they enlisted, and we offer them our most sincere thanks. After all, it is veterans we have to thank for protecting our many freedoms; we owe them so very much.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.” Charles Province, US Army veteran
Whatever your reasons for enlisting, thank you. Whether you served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan – or elsewhere – thank you. The simple act of enlisting is the first in a string of sacrifices you’ve made for this nation, and we are eternally grateful. Without your sacrifices I could not carry a gun for personal protection, attend rallies in support of my political beliefs, or worship freely. Without you, I could not sit at my laptop and write whatever I darn well please. Today is Veteran’s Day, and although it breaks my heart to see the dwindling numbers of those willing to serve, it brightens my day that you, yourself, served, or are serving.
Thank you for your sacrifices. Thank you for your service.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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