, Newburyport, MA

November 11, 2013

Editorial: At the 11th hour ...

Newburyport Daily News

---- — It is a function of the calendar and not congressional design that the nation celebrates Veterans Day today, on a Monday.

With the exception of a failed experiment in the early 1970s, the country has paused to honor its veterans at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month since the “war to end all wars” unofficially ended with the armistice of 1918.

Few federal holidays have escaped the move to make more three-day weekends than a date of historical significance — Independence Day, Christmas and, yes, Veterans Day.

The date carries great significance in the country’s history and the ill-conceived Uniform Holiday Bill of 1968 just didn’t fly with people who recognized and honored that. Sometimes, a holiday must be observed on the day it was intended, three-day weekends be damned.

Schools can be forgiven their early observances of the day since they are closed today. The celebrations and honors started last week in some schools, with veterans and their families invited to school cafeterias for breakfast, patriotic songs and bridge building between the very young and the men and women whose sacrifices made ordinary life possible.

Last Monday, one young student in Derry connected with her dad, serving in Afghanistan, through Skype. Nearby, a great-grandfather of 89 rose from his wheelchair when the assemblage paid tribute to the dwindling reserve of World War II veterans.

This country’s last known World War I veteran died in 2011. Now, the Vietnam veterans, once much scorned for their participation in one of the nation’s most contentious wars, are among the grizzled, their weathered faces mirroring those of the veterans they once celebrated as schoolchildren.

Most Korean War veterans, marking the 60th anniversary of that conflict’s armistice, are in their 80s.

But it was a contingent of members of the Greatest Generation, survivors of World War II, who earlier this fall reminded the country and all its people why veterans are a breed apart.

Participants of an Honor Flight, a nonprofit organization that flies veterans from all corners of the country to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., jolted our collective conscience in early October.

They pushed aside the barricades during the federal government shutdown and forced their way in to the monument they had waited so long to see.

To say these weary and, in many cases, infirm veterans stormed the monument would be an exaggeration in the physical sense, but they did, indeed, storm the government.

These men and women, most in their 90s, would not allow congressional shenanigans to prevent them from seeing a memorial built to honor their service.

Many lawmakers were quick to raise the flag and rally their political troops in support of these aging servicemen and women, but that late action rang hollow.

It was the veterans themselves who provided a stark and very real reminder to the country of their sacrifice for the common good and the freedom they sought for all citizens.

After storming the beaches at Normandy or fighting the Battle of Midway, pushing aside temporary barriers on the National Mall was nothing to these veterans.

Let their act of civil defiance serve as a pointed reminder of their service and their sacrifice. Veterans Day falls on a Monday this year, but it’s the date that carries the significance.

Pause, reflect, remember and honor all who have served — and continue to serve — this country. They deserve nothing less.