‘Stop and look to a veteran’
Despite constant rain and the coronavirus pandemic, Whitehall Township hosted its annual outdoor Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 11 with speakers, color guard, flag raising and the playing of taps.
Although the national holiday is dedicated to recognizing present and past veterans - living and dead - who have served the country in one of the branches of the military in war or peace, it is mainly intended to thank living veterans.
In his remarks, guest speaker Maj. Gen. Jerry Still (USAF-Ret.) explained Veterans Day began as a celebration of peace.
“Our nation and our allies had fought ‘The “War to End All Wars.’ The guns fell silent on Nov. 11, 1918, on the 11th day of the 11th month at the eleventh hour at 11:11 a.m.”
Still, who is president of the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council that services 40,000 veterans in the area, said 4 million Americans served in World War I and 16 million in the Second World War.
“To them we owe an incredible debt.”
In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 Armistice Day, but it wasn’t until 1938 the date became a national holiday. In 1954, the word “veterans” was substituted for “Armistice” in the original 1938 legislation.
“Wherever they have served,” Still said, “our veterans have answered the call to defend our freedom, and if need be, to give their lives in its defense. Veterans Day is a reminder of those sacrifices.”
Whitehall Township Mayor Michael Harakal Jr. tied his comments to the recent presidential election.
“Veterans Day often follows a hard-fought political campaign - an exercise in the free speech and self-government that you fought for,” Harakal said. “It often lays bare disagreements across our nation, but the American instinct has never been to find isolation in opposite corners. It is to find strength in our common creed, to forge unity from our great diversity, to sustain that strength and unity even when it is hard.
“When the election is over,” Harakal continued, “as we search for ways to come together - to reconnect with one another and with the principles that are more enduring than transitory politics - some of our best examples are the men and women we salute on Veterans Day.”
Speaking directly to those who may have become cynical, he urged, “Whenever you doubt that courage and goodness and selflessness is possible, stop and look to a veteran. They don’t always go around telling stories of their heroism, so it’s up to us to ask and to listen, to tell those stories for them, and to live in our own lives the values for which they were prepared to give theirs.”