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Veterans Day: Honor those who served

A silent visitor passed through Hood River last week: portions of the in-progress World War II Memorial, to be placed in Salem in 2013.

The Memorial Association brought the marble slabs through the Gorge as a way of raising awareness of the project, but also to give local veterans the chance to see it for themselves, in case they do not have the chance next year.

The gesture was a generous yet bittersweet one, done with the knowledge that our World War II veterans are passing from our midst or, in some cases, unable to travel.

The addition of the World War II memorial is one that is welcome and long overdue.

Of course, Veterans Day, which is Sunday, is about more than World War II, but the daily reduction in the number of living members of “The Greatest Generation” adds a sobering note to this year’s Veterans Day observance.

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Many Americans mistakenly believe that Veterans Day is the day America sets aside to honor American military personnel who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained from combat. That’s not quite true. Memorial Day is the day set aside to honor America’s war dead.

Veterans Day, on the other hand, honors ALL American veterans, both living and dead. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for dedicated and loyal service to their country. Nov. 11 of each year is the day that we ensure veterans know that we deeply appreciate the sacrifices they have made in the lives to keep our country free.

Sunday provides two opportunities to honor those who have served their country. Monday will be a day off from school and, for some, from work as the U.S. observes the formal federal holiday.

But Sunday is Nov. 11, also known as Armistice Day, founded to commemorate the ending of the “Great War” (World War I), celebrating the ending of World War I hostilities at 11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). This day became known internationally as “Armistice Day.”

In 1921, the United States of America followed France and England by laying to rest the remains of a World War I American soldier — his name “known but to God” — on a Virginia hillside overlooking the city of Washington, D.C., and the Potomac River. This site became known as the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” and today is called the “Tomb of the Unknowns.” Located in Arlington National Cemetery, the tomb symbolizes dignity and reverence for the American veteran.

In America, Nov. 11 officially became known as Armistice Day through an act of Congress in 1926. It wasn’t until 12 years later, through a similar act, that Armistice Day became a national holiday.

On this solemn day, the words of Oregon Veterans Administration director Jim Willis say it best: “Our veterans do not serve for glory, or power, or wealth, but for freedom, and the simple recognition of service well performed — a sincere thank you — means more to most veterans than any other reward.”

(Please turn to page A5 for Willis’ full Veterans Day message.)

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