In the eleventh month of 1918, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, the fighting stopped. The first World War had, for all practical purposes, ended, and beginning in 1938, the eleventh day of November was observed as a federal holiday known as Armistice Day and later Veterans Day. World War I began in Bosnia, a small Eastern European country that most people had never heard of. Even so, the government of the United States imposed a lottery draft, and hundreds of young men from Emanuel County and thousands more from across the nation registered for military service and ended up fighting in France, Belgium and Germany. There were actually more draftees and volunteers than were needed. In the last year of the War, 12 men from Emanuel County drowned in the Irish Sea when their troop ship, the Otranto, sank in a storm. Twenty-three years later in 1941, the United States again called for young men, and later women, to enlist in the armed services to fight a new threat from Hitler’s Germany and Hirohito’s Japan. By 1944, sixteen million Americans were serving in uniform. In a small Minnesota town, three young men committed suicide because they couldn’t pass the physical to serve their country in the army. 3.4 million Americans served in Southeast Asia during the years of the Vietnam conflict. Even in a politically turbulent war, 2 million volunteered. In the first recruitment period following the September 11, 2001, attack on our country, almost a quarter of a million Americans enlisted in the active duty and reserve military. Since that time, over 3 million Americans have served tours in the Middle East.
The idea and obligation to serve is ingrained in the soul and character of this country. That service is evident in many forms, in many roles and in many places. As events in the world clearly show us every day, the freedoms of liberty that we treasure are bought and paid for with the sacrifice of those who serve. That is not just an idea on a bumper sticker or a sweatshirt or in the lyrics of a song. “Service” is what binds the rock and the steel of the structure of our country together. Without the allegiance of service, nothing else is possible. This Saturday is Veterans Day, when we once again honor those who put aside their own plans, comforts, hopes and dreams to take their spot in the formation and put a higher calling front and center. As you go through the remainder of your week remember the sacrifice of service. It’s what makes our world possible. To all of our Veterans, our law enforcement, all our first responders, public safety officials, and even to our teachers who chart the course for the ones who will answer tomorrow’s call, thank you all for your service.