Throughout history, America and its allies have fought, not for land or conquest, but for principles of liberty, equality and human dignity. Our freedom has been bought with a price, and we stand on the shoulders of giants — our veterans.
Today, our country and its allies depend on the commitment of its serving veterans. As we honor all veterans next week, I would like to reflect on contributions past and the significance of our current veterans in a time of war.
Veterans Day was born on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the guns fell silent on the Western front at the end of World War I. Originally known as Armistice Day, it honored those killed in “the war to end all wars,” which claimed 16 million lives.
Afterward, the Great War became the enemy. The sacrifice of its veterans and the principles for which they fought were cast aside in an attempt to appease those who were dedicated to their destruction. The result was World War II. Sixteen million Americans, out of a population of 120 million, served in World War II and became known as the Greatest Generation. They defeated militaristic domination in Europe and Asia, liberated millions and revived the idealism of President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which had been dormant since World War I. They, and all veterans, were honored by President Dwight D. Eisenhower with the first Veterans Day in 1954.
The greatest honor for World War II veterans was the commitment of the U.S. and our NATO allies to the unfinished business of liberty — the millions enslaved behind the iron curtain. The Cold War was won in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell and with the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, many former “enemies” from Eastern Europe are NATO partners in the cause of freedom.
Today, we are in conflict with ideologies every bit as dangerous to our nation and its principles of liberty, equality and human dignity, as state militarism and communism were before them. We face ideologies that seek to destroy, enslave and impose their wills on free people and those who yearn to be free around the globe.
During our current wars against these ideologies, the U.S. and its allies have been a force for good in a dangerous world. Our serving veterans, all volunteers, who make up more than 60 percent of the current Air Force, have honored their proud heritage and legacy of valor for more than a decade by their steadfast defense of freedom. It has not been an easy road, and as President John F. Kennedy said in the early days of the Cold War, “When there is a visible enemy to fight in open combat…many serve, all applaud and the tide of patriotism runs high, but when there is a long, slow struggle…your choice will seem hard indeed.”
Our serving veterans and their families have made that hard choice, and I have confidence they will succeed and usher in a new era of freedom. I have this confidence because of the enduring partnerships we have formed with our German and NATO allies whose strength is our shared values and diversity of ideas. I am confident because the liberty, equality and human dignity we champion still stand as a beacon and appeal to the best in people around the world. But most of all, I am confident because of our serving veterans and their families. You remain the shield and defender for our countrymen and nation, and your sacrifice gives hope to all who wish to be free.
Liberty and freedom are not defined or defended in one conflict or season; they are preserved over time by veterans and their families. Thank you.