By Mr Paul Steven Ghiringhelli (Drum)November 17, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. --- Soldiers, veterans, their loved ones and Fort Drum community members gathered in a cold and windy Memorial Park to honor the sacrifices of American service members past and present.
This year's Veterans Day observance began with Brig. Gen. Harry E. Miller Jr., special assistant to the 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin D. Sharkey, acting 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum command sergeant major, placing a large wreath at the Military Mountaineers Monument as a sign of respect and appreciation for the sacrifices that all Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have made for the nation.
William Morrison, president of the Northern New York Chapter of the 10th Mountain Division Association, was the first one to offer remarks during the ceremony.
"Veterans Day, unlike the Fourth of July, is not a holiday we celebrate with parade and fireworks," Morrison said. "Rather, it is a day of quiet remembrance and thankfulness. It is a brief moment in time to honor and appreciate the loyal service of American veterans and to thank with equal appreciation those who currently wear the uniform of America's military.
"We here today may be separated by generations of time," he said. "But we have shared in a noble crusade: let us not forget. And for our departed fallen Soldiers, at the (setting) of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."
Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day, began on Nov. 11, 1919, to honor the sacrifices of World War I veterans. It was officially recognized by the U.S. government in 1926 through a congressional resolution.
After World War II and the Korean War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day, which expanded the scope of the day to recognize all U.S. service members who served both in peacetime and in war.
Those veterans "wrote a blank check, payable to the United States of America, for the amount of up to and including their lives," said Michael Plummer, National Association of the 10th Mountain Division president.
"They are all heroes to me," he said. "I am humbled to have been privileged to serve with and know so many incredible men and women."
The retired colonel asked veterans of past wars sitting in the heated tents to stand up and be recognized.
"You, our past veterans, gave us the freedom to enjoy what we have today, a great nation in which to live, and the opportunity to keep it that way," he said.
Plummer also honored today's Soldiers, calling them "guardians of our children and our grandchildren's future."
"Freedom isn't free," he said. "America is fortunate to have such heroes who today are all volunteers. Rightly, America should honor them not just today but every day for their service and sacrifice.
"You need to know that today, less than 1 percent of all Americans serve in our armed forces, while more than 99 percent enjoy the privileges their service earns," he added. "This adds new meaning to (the famous quote): 'Never have so many owed so much to so few.'"
Plummer finished his remarks by cautioning Americans against ingratitude.
"I believe that as long as America continues to thank their veterans, we will have the volunteers who are willing to serve and sacrifice," he said. "But I also know that America's mothers and fathers will not send their most precious treasure -- their sons and daughters -- to serve an ungrateful nation."
Miller closed the ceremony by pointing out examples of veterans who have distinguished themselves through selfless acts.
He said four Soldiers have received the Medal of Honor this year alone. He also recalled the story of Sgt. Jacob Perkins, a Fort Drum Soldier who pulled passengers to safety this summer from a burning tour bus on I-90.
"These are the stories that the public loves to hear," the general said. "They cement the American ideal of a Soldier as a hero. But when you hear the interviews with these veterans, they do not say that they were seeking glory, but simply that they did what needed to be done at that time and place.
"Their decision to do the right thing is a natural one, despite the considerable danger they faced as they sprung into action," Miller continued. "On Veterans Day, we are reminded that when Soldiers exhibit selfless service for their fellow comrades and for their country, whether deployed or at home, you can count on them to do the right thing.
"Of course, there are countless veterans who served our country honorably, doing their job day in and day out, without capturing the gaze of the national media's eye," he added. "Today, we recognize these Soldiers as well. Each and every member of our military works as part of a whole, ensuring the success of the mission every time."
Miller said some of those unsung heroes are today's former service members and military retirees. "We appreciate the way that you translate the military's values to civilian life and to the close-knit community of support that you foster," he said.
The general also took time to highlight the deeper emotions associated with Veterans Day.
"While we call today a holiday, for many veterans, it is another day of memories that drive them to live their lives each day as best they can," he said. "For our deployed troops, it's another day in harm's way. For their Families, it's another day to feel the absence of a loved one and a concern for their safety. For our wounded warriors, it's another day of slow and arduous recovery. And for others, it's another day when the grief of loss remains fresh.
"The resilience of our Soldiers and their Families never fails to amaze me," Miller said. "They represent the best of America. Our Army Family is strong."
To conclude the observance, audience members stood for a three-volley salute, the playing of taps, a moment of silence and the benediction.