Judge John Lloyd, speaking at the Veterans' Day Observance November 11, 2005, said:

As holidays go, Veterans Day is a relatively young one. The first Veterans Day was commemorated in 1919. President Woodrow Wilson issued what was then called an Armistice Day Proclamation, calling on all Americans to remember the Armistice that had ended World War I on November 11, 1918. Eight years later, Congress passed a resolution asking President Calvin Coolidge to issue a proclamation that the flag be flown on all government buildings on November 11 and that the day be celebrated in schools and churches across the country. In 1938, Congress finally got around to declaring that November 11 each year was to be celebrated as Armistice Day and was to be "dedicated to the cause of world peace." In 1954, the name was changed from Armistice Day to Veterans' Day.

Why do we celebrate Veteran's Day? President Wilson, in his proclamation for that first Armistice Day said this: "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 nation." From the beginning, Veterans' Day has been about two things, celebrating the people who fought and died for this country and celebrating the thing they fought for, peace and freedom. Let's talk for a few minutes about both of those things — first, the people who fought and died for this country.

To talk about them, I need to relate a personal experience. During the first two weeks of October of this year, just a little over a month ago, my brothers and I loaded up my parents and their dog and took them to Washington, D.C. to see some of the sights in our nations' capital, but especially to see the World War II memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. Dad is 84. He enlisted in January of 1942, took basic training at Norfolk, Va., advanced training at Camp Parry near Norfolk, and spent two years in the Pacific as a Seabee. He was in Florida with his unit, refitting and preparing to support the invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mom graduated from high school in 1943 in the middle of the war and lived and worked in a country at war. The dog, of course, is quite a bit younger than they are.

I have been to Washington, D.C. before this trip. My parents had not. I have been to Arlington Cemetery and seen the memorials, although the Korean Memorial was under construction and the World War II Memorial had not been built the last time I was there. I have seen the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the first time when I was just 18 years old. I have seen the absolute precision of the guard, taking 21 steps, pausing for 21 seconds, turning, and returning 21 steps, pausing for 21 seconds, turning, again and again until the next guard takes his place. 21 steps and 21 seconds are symbolic of a 21 gun salute in honor of the unknown soldiers buried in the tomb. I don't know if the guard's rifle is loaded but I suspect that if anyone tried to mess with that tomb, the guard would tear him into precisely 21 pieces with his bare hands.

But I had never seen the cemetery or the changing of the guard in the company of a veteran of World War II and seen the look on his face during that ceremony. I had never walked for 15 minutes from the entrance of the cemetery, past gravestone after gravestone, to locate the grave of the man who would have been my uncle, my mother's brother-in-law, a gunner on a B­24 that didn't make it back from a mission in Europe. If I return to Washington, D.C. again in my life time, I may choose not to visit the World War II memorial, simply because it will not look the same to me as it did in the company of two people who lived and fought during that war. My dad never talked much about the war while I was growing up. He didn't talk about it much even on this trip, but if you had seen how he and mom looked during the time we were at the World War II Memorial, you would begin to understand a little bit how that war impacted them, and how much it meant to them that their nation had finally built a memorial to remind future Americans of the sacrifices their generation made to fight and win that war.

If you had been on this. trip with my brothers and my parents, you would also have visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History and seen an extensive exhibit entitled "The Price of Freedom." In it, you would have seen many displays that talked about the soldiers and sailors and marines who fought, and continue to fight, America's wars. You would also have seen exhibits about Victory gardens, war bond drives, scrap drives and ration books. You would have seen a poster with a picture of a person riding alone in a car and the caption, "If you ride alone, you ride with Hitler," and exhorting you to join a ride sharing club today. You would have learned that war is fought not only by the people who carry the guns but also by the people who support the people who carry the guns.

We celebrate Veterans' Day, today and every year, to remember all of the people who have fought and died for this country, and to support those who have fought and lived for this country. That is the first reason we are here today.

The second reason we are here today is to celebrate what those people fought for. To talk about that issue, I am going to criticize two United States presidents, George W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson. Since one is a Republican and one was a Democrat, I hope you will understand that my comments are not intended to be politically partisan. But both of those presidents used a political argument that I believe is the exact opposite of what our veterans fought for. Both of them sought to curb criticism of their policies, President Bush on Iraq and President Johnson on Vietnam, by saying that their decisions were above criticism because to do so would show a lack of support for the people in uniform who were fighting and dying for this country. I think that this does not honor, but dishonors, our veterans.

Let me try to explain why I believe this by referring you to a situation that I believe illustrates my point. We all know what happened on September 11, 2001. We know that on that date, while responding to an attack on our country, firefighters, climbing the stairs of the World Trade Center, lost their lives when the buildings collapsed. We know from the investigations that followed that mistakes were made and lives were lost because of those mistakes. But no politician has attempted to insulate himself from scrutiny by claiming that looking critically at the decisions that were made that day, and in fact in the days and years before that day, is somehow dishonoring the firefighters who lost their lives. We look critically at the decisions that were made so that we can learn, learn both what was done wrong and what was done right. What would dishonor those firefighters would be to refuse to learn from their sacrifice and condemn others to die for the same mistakes.

The same is true of military decisions. We look critically at what George Armstrong Custer did at the Little Bighorn, so that we do not repeat his mistakes, but we do not dishonor the soldiers who died in that battle by doing so. We honor their bravery and seek to learn so that other equally brave soldiers do not die from the same mistakes. We look critically at the D-Day invasion, at the air drops behind enemy lines on the night before the invasion that went so disastrously wrong, at the deaths of soldiers who drowned leaving their LSTs before they could even reach the beaches at Normandy, not to dishonor them, but to learn from their deaths that others might not die from the same errors. We look critically at the D-Day invasion as well to learn what went right, so that we can build on those successes. We look critically at friendly fire deaths to find out what, if anything, was done wrong so that we can try to prevent friendly fire deaths in the future. No decision, no policy, is beyond criticism in this country and our veterans fought for that right.

In making these statements, I am not agreeing with those who criticize President Bush or criticized President Johnson. We have got to realize that agreeing with the right to be critical is NOT — it is NOT — the same as agreeing with the content of the criticism. The right to be critical, to say things that others might not agree with, to be clearly right or monumentally wrong, is what our veterans have fought for throughout our history.

I come back to something my favorite war veteran, my dad, said quite a few years ago about the subject of flag burning. When I asked him about it during one of our conversations on our recent trip he said he hadn't changed his mind. He said then, and still believes, that he did not fight for a flag, for a piece of cloth. He fought for what that flag stood for, the freedom to say and do things that he might not agree with. To me, the second reason we celebrate Veterans' Day is to remember the freedoms that our veterans fought for.

And just so you'll be sure that my lifelong Republican and President Bush' supporting father is not some kind of liberal, he also said something else worth remembering: as soon as you burn that flag, you have lost forever the ability to change his mind to your point of view. Just because you have the right to do something doesn't make it the right thing to do.

Well, perhaps you don't agree with how Daniel Lloyd put it, or maybe you think that he is out of touch with our history or doesn't understand what this country and his service to it are all about. If that is the case, I think that you might find interesting how Patrick Henry put it during a debate in the Virginia House of Burgesses. To one of his opponents he said: "Sir, I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." And the veterans of this nation for more than 230 years now, have fought, to the death, for that right and all of the freedoms that we enjoy in this country.

The tombstones at Arlington Cemetery are white, rectangular in shape with a rounded top. In many cemeteries around the world where Americans have fought and died and been buried, the graves are marked with white crosses. Since walking among the row upon row upon row of tombstones at Arlington Cemetery last month, I have not been able to get out of my mind a poem written by John McCrae in 1915. Dr. McCrae was a Canadian doctor and soldier who worked in field hospitals in Europe during World War I and died of pneumonia there before the war ended. It's a famous poem, one most all of you have heard before, but one well worth hearing again, on a day when we celebrate and remember our veterans, and their families, and what they fought for and continue to fight for. It is a poem about a military cemetery in Belgium where, in graves marked by crosses, 368 American veterans of World War I are buried, and it is also a poem about our need to remember and to honor those veterans:


In Flanders fields the poppies blow  Loved and were loved, and now we lie 
Between the crosses, row on row,  In Flanders fields.
That mark our place; and in the sky 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly  Take up our quarrel with the foe: 
Scarce heard amid the guns below. To you from failing hands we throw 
The torch; be yours to hold it high. 
We are the Dead. If ye break faith with us who die 
Short days ago We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, In Flanders fields.




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Last Revised April 4, 2015