In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th as the first commemoration of Armistice Day, proclaiming, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.” 35 years later, and nearly 70 years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law Congress’ bill to alter this distinction and to establish November 11th as Veterans Day. On this occasion, President Eisenhower stated, “Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”

Exactly as Presidents Wilson and Eisenhower said, the grateful and respectful sentiments we express to those who have served our great nation are certainly enthusiastic — but also solemn. Reflecting on the sacrifice so many men and women across our nation have paid must entail reckoning with the solemn reality that those who have fought to defend America are the genuine reason we can even celebrate Veterans Day, the real reason we can exercise our right to free speech or the right worship and live our lives without tyranny, fear, and oppression.

This Veterans Day, I hope we can all thank the veterans we know — and those we may not. We should give thanks for the great country we are blessed to live in, and say a prayer for those who have served and those who continue to do so — and allow this gratitude to extend to those families who have sacrificed so much standing alongside their loved ones who have served and put their country ahead of themselves. 

I was inspired by comments made by Congresswoman Carol Miller just this week on the House floor in support of legislation pertaining to a new Medal of Honor Monument in Washington, D.C. The monument will be so appropriately named after the great Hershel “Woody” Williams. Woody was one of our very own — a true American hero from West Virginia. Woody passed away last year and was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from WWII. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1945 for his courage during the battle of Iwo Jima where he singlehandedly fought the Japanese with flamethrowers and cleared the way for American troops to advance in the Pacific. Marines raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi later that same day, producing for us that eternally-iconic image, clearly illustrating that America was winning the war. Representative Miller closed her speech, highlighting the importance for Americans to draw from the selflessness, patriotism, and sacrifice of Woody and all who have served to “remind future generations of the values that shaped and preserved our great nation.”

That is the same message I wish to share today. America is a great nation — a nation we are so blessed to call home — but as President Ronald Reagan reminded us, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

To all of our veterans: thank you for your service, thank you for your sacrifice, and thank you for inspiring others to continue carrying the torch of freedom.

by: Elgine McArdle, Chairwoman of the West Virginia Republican Party

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