Since 1919, Americans have been celebrating a very special day on Nov. 11. Some of us are even getting a day off of work today. But don't call it a holiday. Call Veterans Day a day of acknowledgment - a day of utmost respect and reverence. It is a day of thanks for those who helped pay the price for freedom.
Originally called Armistice Day, President Wilson first declared Nov. 11 a day of remembrance following the end of hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. President Wilson set the tone of observance with the following words: "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, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations..."
Following World War II, President Eisenhower renamed Armistice Day to Veterans Day, expanding the day of memory to commemorate the sacrifices of all those who have served their country.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, in fiscal year 2010, about 263,000 veterans who served during World War II died. Nationally, that's about 721 a day. Some 244,000 were expected to die in 2011, according to the department's estimates - nearly 670 a day.
In 2002, nearly 368,000 World War II veterans died, or just more than 1,000 a day. By 2006, the number dropped to about 332,000, or 909 a day. By 2008, about 815 veterans on average were dying each day. Veteran Affairs spokesman Ozzie Garza said: "The number is decreasing because, of course, there's fewer World War II veterans alive now." Today, the average age of a World War II vet is 92, he said. There area about 1.7 million veterans remaining of the 16 million who served our nation in World War II.
Add to that there are over 650 Korean and Vietnam wars veterans passing daily. The youngest a World War II vet could possibly be would be well into 80-plus years old. Passage of time has taken so many of them from us but we must refuse to let it ever take the memories of their heroism and sacrifices away from us. Those old enough must never forget and those old enough must continue to teach our young about commitment and sacrifice.
Today many schools and community groups will be paying respects to our veterans. Good for them and good for our conscientious teachers who impart knowledge into their students so that all the efforts on the battlefields, on the shores and on the mighty oceans will never be lost among future generations. You shouldn't have had to be around during World War II to understand and appreciate what our service men and women did for us during the most pivotal period in our nation's history. Same with the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars. We must preserve and cherish the heritage created by our country-minded veterans-those who served during times of strife and those serving during times of peace. We must pass it down through our young. Of course we can't overlook those troops still serving diligently across the globe.
So pause today and reflect and be grateful. The democratic ideals that make the United States of America the finest nation in the history of mankind were forged and protected by our service men and women. Let's not ever lose sight of that. If you know a veteran, simply give him or her a few words of gratitude today; a simple thank for all they have done and sacrificed. And if you are a veteran, thank you very much.