A Veterans Day letter

Published 9:56 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2015

By Rear Adm. George W. Ballance

Today I join the nation in recognizing the service and individual sacrifices of more than 20 million American veterans currently living across the country.

Veterans Day honors every individual who has served, whether for many years or for a short time — those who have served in combat overseas, and those who serve closer to home. We recognize their heroic efforts, for there is no small feat once you sign over your life to defending freedom and democracy.

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Veterans Day is our opportunity to thank men and women who have previously served or are currently serving; it is also our nation’s way to honor the service and sacrifice of those who came before them.

As the son of a World War II veteran, I have always been amazed and humbled by the commitment, resolve and achievements of the veterans of the United States military.

In my 35 years of service to the United States Navy, I have personally witnessed the sacrifices our sailors are called to make when they leave for deployments that take them away from their loved ones for months at a time. These sacrifices are made selflessly, proudly and without hesitation.

One need only to crack a history book or Google “American veterans” to see that this commitment to our nation and our freedom is common to every military engagement the U.S. has been involved in since its inception.

From the high-seas crusade against the tyranny of the British Navy in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, to the fight for Cuba’s independence from Spain in the Spanish-American War, and to the sailors currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is clear that American sailors honor the time-tested motto “non sibi sed patriae,” — “not for self, but for country.”

Recent examples include Naval Nurse Commander Lenora Langlais, who, in a remarkable display of bravery and dedication while serving in Iraq in 2006, refused to leave her post even after being hit by a mortar blast to the face.

Looking deeper into naval history, we find demonstrations of sacrifice from men such as Seaman First Class James Richard Ward, who, during the attacks at Pearl Harbor, remained in a turret holding a flashlight so members of the USS Oklahoma could see to escape, ultimately giving his own life.

Each of these American heroes demonstrated incredible bravery. Given the caliber of our men and women serving in our navy and sister services today, stories of their commitment and dedication have and will continue to fill many books highlighting them.

While the accomplishments and achievements of America’s navy and its sailors are vast and significant, we are united past and present, young and old, active-duty and veteran, in the commitment to bring security, democracy and prosperity to the American people and the international community.

During peacetime and times of conflict, across the full spectrum — from supporting an ally with humanitarian assistance or disaster relief to deterring or defeating an adversary — sailors are deployed at sea and in far-flung posts to be wherever we are needed, whenever we are needed; ready to support the mission.

This truly remarkable ability to be “always ready” is also prevalent with our Navy Reserve; these veterans continuously answer the call to duty, never hesitating to support and defend the everyday freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

On this Veterans Day, I thank each and every member of the American armed forces for their honor, courage and commitment and recognize our shared pride in the privilege to have served this great nation.

Rear Adm. George W. Balance is the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, U.S. 4th Fleet. He is from Virginia.