A small gathering of Boy Scouts, veterans, town officials and residents gathered at the Warren Town Common Sunday morning to mark the town’s observance of Veterans’ Day. Keynote speaker Chris Stanley, the president of the Warren Town Council, gave this speech:
Today the First World War can often appear distant to us with so much frivolity competing for our concentration. Then, there are those days shattered by moments of absolute horror, that out of sheer necessity demand our attention. Still, “the war to end all wars” is still very much with us. More, possibly, than we even realize. It was a major turning point in the 20thCentury. It brought an end to the romanticism of war and revealed warfare as the wholesale slaughter of human life. The “Great War” decimated an entire generation of young men and in their pursuit they became the “lost generation.” They serve to remind us of the tragedy of war. Their sacrifice awakens us to the fact that the loss of life and innocence are indivisible among mankind. The anxious men drafted into World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and a fetid lair in Pakistan – those who readied themselves for the Battles of the Iwo Jima, la Drang Valley and Tora Bora – now see the ugliness that lay ahead of them because of those who went before them.
War is no longer a mere chess game predicated on the linear movements of men wearing brightly colored plumage. The game board is now checkered with pawns made up of flesh and blood who crawl on their bellies through mud filled trenches, terraced rice paddies, dark caves and dirty city streets. American Doughboys were forced to face mechanized mass killing from what Campion Edwin Vaughan, author of Some Desperate Glory, called, “the curtain of fire”.
Stalemate and attrition are now the action words used to define modern warfare ever since the “Guns of August” fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. While these words are distressing and offer a gruesome image of what a soldier must do, the principles for which Americans fight are noble. “That among these”, according to Thomas Jefferson, “are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. To us these ideals are more precious than living in a world that knows only an empty peace. America’s Veterans have always sacrificed their lives so that others may experience freedom. They alone hold up the lamp light of freedom in the most biting of storms and cast the light of democracy upon the desolation and despair of despots. This nation does not fight for territorial gain or monetary reward but so that others may have the right to maintain a voice in their own Government. Others like Saleem al Harazi, a 12-year-old boy, whose eyes were shot out of his head by a sniper’s riffle when he joined antigovernment protesters in Yemen in March of 2011. This fall he told a National Geographic reporter that, “I loved them and wanted to stand with them.” He recalled, “I wanted them to end poverty.” They were the last people he ever saw and he has no regrets. Instead he rejoices exclaiming, “I am still happy I was able to witness the protests firsthand.”
You see, our veterans spilled their blood endowing the meekest among us with the power to control their own destiny. Today those who served this greater purpose quietly walk amongst us and demand nothing in return. Many who came home from the hell of battle now silently suffer the physical and emotional scars of war. They do not speak of their broken hearts or broken minds but instead toil to ensure that our young men and women do not become a lost generation. Sadly, their efforts often go unnoticed because triviality and indifference distract us from the important.
However, these heroes did not forfeit their innocence in vain. The spirit of their sacrifice endures in our freedom to choose our own course of history even when it comes to the smallest town. For example, last week over 300 residents first shouted aloud in support of a novel, albeit controversial idea, the kitchen incubator. Then the very next day hundreds more made their voices heard by casting their ballots to re-elect the president. This is why we are unique among nations. Our state and federal Constitutions afford us the chance to change policy and periodically entertain the idea of wholesale revolution.
However, make no mistake, this revolution is not bloodless as some may claim. Our veterans are the ones who willingly shed their blood so that the principles that gave birth to our nation may continue to live in the hearts of Americans. Sadly, too many have forgotten that this day is of singular importance, distracted by ordinary things. Today is our chance to act with humility by extending our hand in thanksgiving.
We pause, if only for a moment, to recognize the growing debt that we owe to our veterans. Surely, we can never truly repay them for their service. However, in today’s busy world this simple ceremony stands as an extraordinary tribute to those who labored to keep the flame of freedom burning bright. Surely our sincerity leaves a deep, lasting impression on the hearts of our veterans when we pause to honor those genuine, unpretentious men and women who offered to serve so that we did not have to. Still, while our efforts are sincere, let us remember that the deep impressions left on our hearts can never equate to the engravings scratched into those cold granite slabs that fondly recall the warmth of those loved ones who gave to us their last full measure of devotion.
When our fingers gently trace the inscribed names of those who have fallen we cannot help but reach out our hand in thanksgiving to those who still walk quietly among us. So it is with the deepest sense of appreciation that I thank you for the blessings you have secured for us and the happy vision that you have afforded a young boy who lost his eyes but not his sight to the handiwork of an evil tyrant. I thank you for your sacrifice to bring a meaningful and lasting peace to Saleem — if not the world.