Veterans Day 2010

This morning, our community observed Veterans Day with a ceremony at Memorial Plaza. Organized by the United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association, this annual event featured speeches, prayer, musical performances from the New Rochelle High School band, and tributes to New Rochelleans who served our nation in combat. Especially moving were the comments of two World War II vets, John Guthrie and Bill Moye, now in their 90s.

You can read an excellent account of the day’s event from New Rochelle Patch.

In addition, the New Rochelle Public Library is currently displaying photographs and illustrations of New Rochelle servicemen in the First and Second World Wars. The images are striking, poignant and definitely worth seeing.

At the Veterans Day observance, I was honored to offer the following remarks:

Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning. Thank you to the United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Association for bringing us together on this important occasion.

I was born in 1969 — in retrospect, a fortunate moment to come into the world, because although it was the height of the War in Vietnam, by the time my generation came of age, that conflict was years in the past, and America’s struggles in the Middle-east and central Asia were still years in the future.

I will never forget something one of my classmates said back in college. To set this stage for this anecdote, in the news then was a controversy — and much national discussion — about a Presidential candidate who had avoided the draft in Vietnam.

My friend was looking at photographs of soldiers, mainly from the Second World War, most of whom were just about our age — and yet who from their expressions and bearing were unmistakably men, while we were still unmistakably boys — and then he looked at himself, skeptically, and pointed to the group of students surrounding us, and observed, in a kind of rueful half-joke: “Man, our generation is so soft, we’ve never even dodged a war.”

Now, in one sense, he was being terribly unfair or at least far too general. Because there were and are a great many Americans now in their 30s and 40s, including some with us here today, who chose to serve and who performed heroically in Kuwait and then later in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But in another sense, he was voicing an important and uncomfortable truth: that in this modern age of America, the terrible sacrifices of war are made almost entirely by the few, and hardly at all by the many.

Our all-volunteer fighting force is the finest military that has ever walked, sailed or flown over the Earth. And yet, by its very nature, for the vast majority of Americans, it transforms the horrors of war into mere images on a television screen, that compete for our attention — and often lose — to American Idol or Top Chef or the Real Housewives of New Jersey. It is entirely too easy for many of us to forget just what bravery is required to face those horrors, and how high the cost of that bravery too often proves.

I believe, therefore, that Veterans Day is more important now than in years past. It is a time to affirm our profound moral responsibility to care for those broken in body or mind by their service. And it is a time for those — like me and like most of us — whose personal safety has never been on the line, to thank God Almighty for every man and woman who has worn on our behalf the uniform of the greatest nation in the history of the world.

I am honored beyond words to be in the company of New Rochelle’s veterans. May God bless each of you. And may God bless America.