The following are the remarks I made today at the Franklin, NJ Township Veterans Day Commemoration:
Thank you very much Mayor Levine, on behalf of MG Glenn K. Reith, the Adjutant General for the State of New Jersey and on behalf of the over 6,000 members of the National Guard of the State of New Jersey, thank you for the opportunity to address you and share in this commemoration today.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my fellow veterans, 90 years ago today at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month across Europe, the guns fell silent. The horror that was World War I was over. It saw 20 million dead at its conclusion. At least the same number bore physical wounds and the millions who returned home sometimes carried wounds unseen.
It was in honor of them and of the conclusion of what was known as “The War to End All Wars”, that this day was originally set aside as a day of solemn remembrance.
21 years later, World War II soon put an end to the idea of a War to End All Wars but, the day of commemoration and remembrance remained and still remains. A day where we honor all those who serve and who have served. I am honored to speak to you today and consider it a profound privilege to stand in the presence of warriors who have served our nation in time of peace and peril.
What is it that sets a veteran apart? How many times have you walked by someone who served? Probably more than you will ever know. There is no way to identify a veteran on sight. Often they are the most physically unremarkable of people. They are short or tall, thin or, well not so thin, they are of every complexion, creed, race, and ethnicity in creation. They come from all economic, social, and educational backgrounds. No one group has the market cornered on service to our nation. They are usually not professional athletes, or great artists, or musicians, they shy away from celebrity.
No, there is no way to see someone and know that they are a veteran and yet they still stand apart. Why? We could spend years applying the greatest minds to this effort, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, even Dr. Seuss, I am sure all would venture a theory. Why do they do it? What makes them different? The answer is quite simple and was summed up by an unknown author who said:
“A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life wrote a blank check Made payable to 'The United States of America ' for an amount of 'up to and including my life.' That is Honor”
The veterans who stand before you today, and those no longer with us, stepped forward. Whether of their own volition or at another point, courtesy of their friends and neighbors and the local draft board does not matter. They stepped forward despite risk, despite the hardship and delays that occurred in their own lives, despite the sometime prevailing opinion of the day which embraced an unhealthy and narcissistic love of self at the expense of neighbor and nation, despite all these things, they stepped forward.
Today, they step forward so that we may honor them; not with fleeting mementos that wither and die like the laurel wreaths given by the Greeks nor should they be honored with sales on cars and clothes and other things that fill up our newspapers and televisions in the weeks prior to this day. We honor them with humble gratitude for their sacrifice and their example.
Not all are called to serve, and not all who wish to serve have the opportunity. Each of us has a path that we must follow in our lives. The doctor spends his life training to heal, the teacher spends her life perfecting her craft so that her students leave her classroom prepared to face the world and make it better. Warriors are called to protect that world.
Our veteran’s are not better than other citizens. They are not more worthy of citizenship, they are not mythical heroes awaiting their own marble statues, and they are not disposable plastic army men to be cast aside at a whim.
Our veterans have a perspective of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship unique to themselves. While all citizens have an idea of their rights, it is only our veterans who understand their costs. With this understanding comes both a sense of joy at seeing what a beautiful thing has been achieved through sacrifice as well as a terrible sadness knowing what the sacrifice has entailed. It is in joy, sacrifice, and sadness that we see the foundation of a Republic that our Founding Fathers prayed would endure.
Napoleon once remarked that the borders of an empire were marked by the graves of its soldiers. Since 1636, when the first organized militias were formed to protect our first colonists, the borders of liberty have not been marked by the graves of our soldiers but instead they are marked by the living breathing peoples whose liberty has been ensured by your courage and sacrifice.
The borders of our nation and of every nation conceived in liberty have been, are, and will be guarded by warriors like those veterans who stand before you now. They deserve our respect, our gratitude, and our love.
On this day of days make sure these are given. On every day that you see them, make sure they are never denied. Thank you, God Bless you and may God Bless the United States of America.