When then-Governor Ronald Reagan introduced returning POW John McCain at a speaking engagement in 1974, the future president asked, “Where do we find such men?”
He was speaking of many veterans when he answered, “We find them in our streets, in the office, the shops and the working places of our country and on the farms.”
In other words, President Reagan was referring to ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things. Fewer than 10 percent of Americans can claim the title “military veteran,” and what a list of accomplishments those 10 percent can claim. From defeating Communism, Fascism and Imperialism, to keeping the peace during the Cold War and battling terrorism today, America owes a debt to her veterans that can never be fully repaid.
Can any CEO or distinguished Ivy League graduate truly claim to have more responsibility than the 20-year-old squad leader walking a patrol in Afghanistan or Iraq? While the successful real estate mogul may have sold hundreds of homes and raised a wonderful family, what single accomplishment tops the decisive actions he took during the siege of Khe Sanh, which saved the lives of several of his fellow Marines?
As leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization, it is my job to remember the brave men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States military. The Preamble to the Constitution of The American Legion calls on us to “preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars.” But those who have not served, in fact, all Americans, should honor the patriots who have.
We call on all Americans to thank veterans and let them know that their sacrifices are appreciated. While veterans are often ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary things, it is often an extraordinary family that supports the ordinary veteran. And it is the veterans that have given us this extraordinary country.
Clarence E. Hill is national commander of the 2.5 million-member American Legion, www.legion.org, the nation’s largest wartime veterans organization.