By Staff Sgt. Lance PoundsNovember 14, 2016
VICENZA, Italy - Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day, is a federal holiday dedicated to honoring all veterans, past and present.
As far back as 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson issued a message expressing what he felt the day meant to Americans, the day has been celebrated by all those who have served, are currently serving or support those who serve the Nation's military.
Members of U.S. Army Africa traveled to Carthage, Tunisia to participate in the Nov. 11 North Africa American Cemetery's annual Veterans Day ceremony. The observance was held under the auspices of U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, the Honorable Daniel Rubenstein, and USARAF Commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Harrington.
The ceremony began with speeches from the official party.
Nearly a century after President Wilson's message to the American public, Harrington shares his thoughts of the observance and what it means to him in his address to ceremony attendants.
"I am honored to be here at the final resting place for more than 2,800 American military members who lost their lives during World War II," Harrington said.
The North Africa American Cemetery is one of 25 permanent American cemeteries maintained by The American Battle Monuments Commission. The ABMC, established by Congress in 1923, is an agency of the executive branch of the federal government. The commission also maintains 27 federal memorials, monuments and markers, located in 16 foreign countries.
In his speech, Harrington noted the historic relationship and strong partnership of the United States and Tunisia; and how both countries face common enemies and work together towards common democratic objectives.
"Together, we are countering the threat of transnational terrorism and meeting increasing demands for military forces to secure our nations," he said.
Perfectly aligned in rows, 2,841 bleach-white headstones gleaming in the Tunisian sunlight cover most of the cemetery's 27-acres.
"Most of the names on the tombstones here are only known to their families," said Harrington. "But to me, each is a hero."
Harrington talks of two such "heroes", Capt. Foy Draper and Pvt. Nicholas Minue, whose unwavering dedication to duty stands to this day as examples of leadership.
As Army Air Corps pilot, Draper flew bombers over the heavy fighting for Kasserine Pass. On January 4, 1943, he and his crew went on a mission and did not return.
"Draper was just one of those many veterans that joined the military to fight against the Axis invasion of Europe and North Africa," Harrington said.
Harrington said Draper may be better known for his achievements at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Draper represented America in the 4 x 100-meter relay and his team took first place.
"Another fine, brave fighting American buried here is Pvt. Nicholas Minue," said Harrington.
Born in Austria-Hungary to Ukrainian parents, Minue immigrated to the United States, became a citizen and eventually enlisted in the Army in 1927.
The career veteran gave up his rank to serve overseas in combat as a private with the 1st Armored Division.
In April 1943, Minue's unit was fighting Afrika Korps soldiers when they came under machine gun fire. Minue affixed his bayonet and assaulted the enemy, killing 10 machine gunners and riflemen. He continued to attack until he was mortally wounded.
Minue was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Harrington said that in addition to Draper and Minue, 240 unknown Americans are buried here. The names of another 3,724 Americans, declared missing in action from battles fought during WWII, are also honored here on the Wall of the Missing.
On this wall of engraved names, Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.
"The individuals buried here exemplify heroism and self-sacrifice. These are the same characteristics found in a select group of American citizens," said Harrington.
"These citizens are America's veterans." He said.
Harrington said there are more than 21 million veterans in the United States today.
"Veterans are our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and children," he said. "They built and stabilized America's past; they are America's future."
In his many years of service, Harrington said he has talked to hundreds of Soldiers about their reasons for joining.
"Most serve because they love their country and want to protect and defend it." Harrington said, adding that he serves for similar reasons.
"I want my son, and someday his children, to know what it means to live in the 'land of the free' and the 'home of the brave'," said Harrington. "I want others to realize the tremendous honor they have to live in a country based on high ideals. It is my constant hope and desire that others will realize what a privilege it is to be an American and take steps to serve and protect the very freedoms upon which this nation was founded."
Harrington concluded his speech addressing the link veterans of today share with their predecessors.
He said men and women form every background and lifestyle who had to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, knew the price of freedom and willingly put their lives on the line for reasons greater then themselves.
"Our very existence as a great nation depends on how well we transmit these values and ideals to the following generations." Harrington said.
"Today we honor these brave men and women," said Harrington.
The ceremony concluded with the official party, one-by-one laying a wreath on the cemetery's Stone of Remembrance on behalf of their organizations and the men and women of the U.S. military.