Giving honor where it’s due

Published 10:19 pm Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back in February, when Frank Buckles died peacefully in West Virginia at the ripe age of 110, Americans lost their last direct contact with an important part of their nation’s history.

Buckles had been captured by Japanese forces and held as a prisoner of war in the Philippines for more than three years during World War II. But his first encounter with war, the one for which he would eventually become most famous, was during the Great War, World War I. Buckles, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in August 1917, was America’s last surviving veteran of that war.

It was that war — or, more precisely the armistice that marked its end — that gave us the holiday we celebrate today. Armistice Day, so known because it was instituted to honor veterans of World War I, which ended with a ceasefire at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, was first celebrated in November 1919. Congress made it an official holiday in 1926, and the holiday was renamed Veterans Day in 1954, when it became a day to honor all of America’s veterans.

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Today, it’s easy to think of Veterans Day as a good time to get a start on Christmas shopping, or an excuse for a long weekend. But the stories of men and women like Frank Buckles — who fought bravely for their nation in the harshest conditions and sometimes without even returning to find that nation grateful for their sacrifice — should cause us to recall the real reason for the holiday.

These soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors represent the best of our nation. Take a moment today to remember them and to thank those with whom you come into contact.