The following was written by Lake Forest High School student Billy Gregg in 2011 for an essay contest (edits made). Gregg won first prize with this powerful and timeless piece upon which we can reflect on Veterans Day... and every day thereafter.
The idea that human beings are entitled to these basic rights has come a long way since it was first explored by John Locke and other enlightenment philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries. No country, no society, has ever achieved as much as the United States of America in terms of fulfilling these ideals.
That being said, the United States would never have evolved into the bastion of freedom and justice that it is today without the sacrifices made by its protectors, living and dead.
Veterans Day is about acknowledging that, without the bravery and devotion of the men and women who have served, and continue to serve each and every one of us, the preservation of this great nation would be impossible.
Since the Civil War, 42,892,128 men and women have served in the military during wartime. Chillingly, 1,249,158 gave their lives for this country, and you and I. In this way, we owe everything to our Veterans. We owe them our freedom and our democratic form of government; we owe them our lives.
My most vivid memories of past Veterans Day ceremonies focus on one song: the Armed Forces Salute. This piece is a medley of the Anthems of the different branches of service, and during the song, Veterans stand to be recognized as the Anthems for their respective services are played.
No facet of Veterans Day has ever resonated with me to the same degree as seeing the pride shine in the eyes of these men and women as they are acknowledged for their incredible service.
In this way, we are given the opportunity to honor our Veterans by representing the qualities of America that they defended.
Even though we do so much to thank our Veterans for their steadfast defense of our nation, Veterans Day is also about realizing that it is impossible to properly thank our servicemen and women for their unflagging valor and determination. There is nothing that we can do for our Veterans that could possibly offset our tremendous debt to them.
So, what does Veterans Day mean to us citizens? It means recognition, reflection, and patriotism, and the pride shining in the eyes of men and women to whom we owe everything.
The military men and women who serve and protect the U.S. come from all walks of life; they are parents, children, grandparents, friends, neighbors and coworkers, and are an important part of their communities. Here are some facts about the Veteran population of the United States:
- 16.1 million living Veterans served during at least one war.
- 5.2 million Veterans served in peacetime.
- 2 million Veterans are women.
- 7 million Veterans served during the Vietnam War.
- 5.5 million veterans served during the Persian Gulf War.
- Of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, 558,000 are alive.
- 2 million veterans served during the Korean War.
- 6 million Veterans served in peacetime.
- As of 2014, 2.9 million Veterans received service connected disability compensation.
- As of 2014, 3 states have more than 1 million Veterans California (1.8 m, Florida (1.6 mil) and Texas (1.7 mil).
- The VA health system has 171 medical centers; 350 outpatient, community, and outreach clinics;