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Volume XVII, Issue 46 ~ November 12 - November 18, 2009

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The Message of Veterans Day

Can we ever get back to Armistice Day?

I’m writing on Veterans Day, so 2009’s official commemoration will be history before you read these words. Yet this Veterans Day is extraordinary in so many ways that I suggest we not limit our reflection to one dedicated day.

It’s extraordinary in the Bay Weekly family as the first time in 65 years — as Alan Doelp relates in Dock of the Bay — Bill Burton won’t recall the name Henry Beckwith, his boyhood friend killed in World War II. Now and forever, Bill rests with the army of dead veterans in Arlington National Cemetery.

For Bill’s worn-out old bones, now reduced to ashes, that’s a fine and proper place to be. For young bones to moulder in graves across America — that’s another story.

This Veterans Day is extraordinary as the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day, declared in 1919 to commemorate the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month as the ending of World War I on the Western Front. At just that time, tradition asks us to reflect silently for two minutes on the 20 million people, many of them young, who died in the war to end all wars.

Yet so many young bones have populated metropolises of the dead since then that Armistice Day was too small a commemoration to do them justice. Veterans Day fills that bigger bill, encompassing all the men and women who’ve served in all our wars.

Twenty years separated World War I and World War II. Since then, wars have come more quickly on each other’s heels. The 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’90s and the first decade of the 21st century all have had their wars. Only in the 1980s did we make do with a cold war instead of a hot one.

Modern wars are longer, too. Vietnam lingered for more than a decade. World War I afflicted the world for only four years, and World War II for six years.

As we commemorate our 90th Armistice Day, we’ve been at war for most of a decade. In Iraq, where we’re told the war is winding down, the American dead number 4,362 and the wounded over 31,000. Fighting in Afghanistan adds another 917 deaths — and that looms as just the beginning.

Thank heavens that the dead account for only a small fraction of our veterans. But the officially wounded increase that fraction. And the unofficially wounded? All our other wars have taught us that it’s the rare veteran who avoids all the wounds of war. In Calvert County this Saturday, the Burnett-Calvert Hospice House will be dedicated in honor of a Vietnam War veteran, Rob Burnett, who died of cancer caused by his wartime exposure to Agent Orange. His is one story of war’s time capsule. The wars of this century are writing many new stories, with new unanticipated twists.

This Veterans Day is extraordinary because in the toll of the dead and wounded we must count the 13 dead and 29 wounded at Fort Hood.

This Veterans Day is extraordinary because with it so many of us have ultimate, personal stakes — our lives and our families’ lives — in how we commemorate it.

This Veterans Day is extraordinary because we Americans unquestioningly commit our treasure — the lives of our children and hundreds of billions of dollars — to the certainty of war.

This Veterans Day is extraordinary because it is not Armistice Day.

Sandra Olivetti Martin

editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

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from the Editor