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Giving thanks to all of our vets

Since 1919, Americans have been celebrating a very special day on Nov. 11. Today is Veterans Day. It is a day of acknowledgment. It is a day of utmost respect and reverence. It is a day of thanks for those who helped pay the price for freedom. Please appreciate that sentiment. We stress this message each year.

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.

Those who fought in the World War II — a war fought on both sides of the globe — belong to the greatest generation in the history of the United States. That is indisputable. But we are losing a very precious commodity in our country: WWII veterans. According to the United States Veterans Administration, at the end of that war the nation was the proud home to nearly 16 million veterans.

As provided by the Pew Research Center, about 300,000 U.S. World War II veterans are alive in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has published projections of the number of living veterans from 2015 to 2045. WWII service members’ numbers have dwindled from around 939,000 in 2015. Most living veterans from the war are in their 90s, though some are considerably older.

Of the 350,000 women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the war, about 14,500 are alive today.

The VA’s projections show that between Sept. 30, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020, 245 WWII veterans were expected to be lost each day. These projections were calculated before the COVID-19 pandemic and did not take any deaths related to that disease into account. The last living American veteran from the war is projected to die in 2044.

Living WWII veterans are spread around the country, and the most populous states have the largest numbers. California and Florida are each home to more than 30,000 veterans from the war. Each of those states is home to 10% of the nation’s total living WWII veteran population.

Fewer and fewer WWII veterans are actually dying per day than in the past for a simple reason: there are fewer and fewer by the day WW II veterans still alive. Yes, a once vast but now dwindling wonderful national resource is vanishing. That is sad. And we can’t overlook the veterans who served in the Korean War. Or the Vietnam or Gulf wars.

The youngest a World War II vet could possibly be would well into his or her 90s. 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.

Many schools and community groups typically pay respects to our veterans on this special. But COVID-19 — a different kind of enemy than ever found on a battlefield — halted community activities.

We can only hope that the conscientious teachers 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. And shame on any teacher or school not stressing Veterans Day. Our history should never fade away.

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. 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. Our message is the same each and every year. We humbly salute you.

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