America has no shortage of inspiring stories, works of art, speeches, etcetera that feature, recognize, or were created by our nation’s veterans. In honor of this year’s Veterans Day celebrations and observances, we are proud to share with you some inspiring examples of such things. Below are two examples of the very bravest sort of people to don the uniform, two suggestions of some fantastic books by veterans well worth reading, and a particularly moving speech by a Navy veteran who went on to hold the highest office in the land.
Stories of Great Veterans in 2019
On November 10th, 2004 then-Staff Sergeant David Bellavia of the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division celebrated his 29th birthday in a rather unique way. Although “celebrated” is definitely the wrong word to describe what he did that day: fought in brutal and terrifying door-to-door urban combat during the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq. For a particularly harrowing portion of that day, wherein Bellavia single-handedly cleared a house of insurgents including one he defeated in hand-to-hand combat, he was initially awarded the Silver Star. But, upon recent review, Bellavia’s courageous and remarkable actions were justly deemed worthy of a far greater honor. The award was upgraded and, on June 25th, he became the first and only living Iraq War veteran to receive the Medal of Honor.
Herschel “Woody” Williams
When Herschel Williams first tried to enlist in the United States Marines in 1942, he was told he was too short. They ended up letting him in the next year, which proved to be a very good decision. After seeing combat at Guadalcanal and Guam, Williams and the rest of the 3rd Marine Division took part in the bloodiest battle in the history of the Marine Corps: Iwo Jima. After going ashore on the black, sandy beaches of the island, then-Corporal Williams fought for hours with his flamethrower against entrenched Japanese troops, including several who attempted to bayonet him to death. He fought on through the entirety of the five-week campaign and was wounded during its course, but it was his superhuman endurance and bravery on that first day that earned him the Medal of Honor. This year, 96-year-old retired CWO4 Herschel will be one of the Grand Marshals of the New York City Veterans Day Parade.
Books Worth Reading by Veterans
Youngblood by Matt Gallagher
Already a name in military and literary circles for his 2010 war memoir Kaboom, Gallagher has been published and lauded by and in numerous outlets over the last few years. His first novel, which debuted in 2016, continues and further enhances his reputation as one of the great writers of America’s War on Terror generation of veterans.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Widely and long considered one of the best pieces of 20th century fiction on war, the collection of connected stories by the Vietnam veteran author was inspired by his experiences with the Army’s 23rd Infantry Division. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the book is noted for its accurate portrayal of the Vietnam War from a literal grounds-eye view.
President John F. Kennedy’s Veterans Day Speech, 1961
Today we are here to celebrate and to honor and to commemorate the dead and the living, the young men who in every war since this country began have given testimony to their loyalty to their country and their own great courage.
I do not believe that any nation in the history of the world has buried its soldiers farther from its native soil than we Americans — or buried them closer to the towns in which they grew up.
We celebrate this Veterans Day for a very few minutes, a few seconds of silence and then this country’s life goes on. But I think it most appropriate that we recall on this occasion, and on every other moment when we are faced with great responsibilities, the contribution and the sacrifice which so many men and their families have made in order to permit this country to now occupy its present position of responsibility and freedom, and in order to permit us to gather here together.
Bruce Catton, after totaling the casualties which took place in the battle of Antietam, not so very far from this cemetery, when he looked at statistics which showed that in the short space of a few minutes whole regiments lost 50 to 75 percent of their numbers, then wrote that life perhaps isn’t the most precious gift of all, that men died for the possession of a few feet of a corn field or a rocky hill, or for almost nothing at all. But in a very larger sense, they died that this country might be permitted to go on, and that it might permit to be fulfilled the great hopes of its founders.
In a world tormented by tension and the possibilities of conflict, we meet in a quiet commemoration of an historic day of peace. In an age that threatens the survival of freedom, we join together to honor those who made our freedom possible. The resolution of the Congress which first proclaimed Armistice Day, described November 11, 1918, as the end of “the most destructive, sanguinary and far-reaching war in the history of human annals.” That resolution expressed the hope that the First World War would be, in truth, the war to end all wars. It suggested that those men who had died had therefore not given their lives in vain.
It is a tragic fact that these hopes have not been fulfilled, that wars still more destructive and still more sanguinary followed, that man’s capacity to devise new ways of killing his fellow men have far outstripped his capacity to live in peace with his fellow men.
Some might say, therefore, that this day has lost its meaning, that the shadow of the new and deadly weapons have robbed this day of its great value, that whatever name we now give this day, whatever flags we fly or prayers we utter, it is too late to honor those who died before, and too soon to promise the living an end to organized death.
But let us not forget that November 11, 1918, signified a beginning, as well as an end. “The purpose of all war,” said Augustine, “is peace.” The First World War produced man’s first great effort in recent times to solve by international cooperation the problems of war. That experiment continues in our present day — still imperfect, still short of its responsibilities, but it does offer a hope that some day nations can live in harmony.
For our part, we shall achieve that peace only with patience and perseverance and courage — the patience and perseverance necessary to work with allies of diverse interests but common goals, the courage necessary over a long period of time to overcome an adversary skilled in the arts of harassment and obstruction.
There is no way to maintain the frontiers of freedom without cost and commitment and risk. There is no swift and easy path to peace in our generation. No man who witnessed the tragedies of the last war, no man who can imagine the unimaginable possibilities of the next war, can advocate war out of irritability or frustration or impatience.
But let no nation confuse our perseverance and patience with fear of war or unwillingness to meet our responsibilities. We cannot save ourselves by abandoning those who are associated with us, or rejecting our responsibilities.
In the end, the only way to maintain the peace is to be prepared in the final extreme to fight for our country — and to mean it.
As a nation, we have little capacity for deception. We can convince friend and foe alike that we are in earnest about the defense of freedom only if we are in earnest — and I can assure the world that we are.
This cemetery was first established 97 years ago. In this hill were first buried men who died in an earlier war, a savage war here in our own country. Ninety-seven years ago today, the men in Gray were retiring from Antietam, where thousands of their comrades had fallen between dawn and dusk in one terrible day. And the men in Blue were moving towards Fredericksburg, where thousands would soon lie by a stone wall in heroic and sometimes miserable death.
It was a crucial moment in our Nation’s history, but these memories, sad and proud, these quiet grounds, this Cemetery and others like it all around the world, remind us with pride of our obligation and our opportunity.
On this Veterans Day of 1961, on this day of remembrance, let us pray in the name of those who have fought in this country’s wars, and most especially who have fought in the First World War and in the Second World War, that there will be no veterans of any further war — not because all shall have perished but because all shall have learned to live together in peace.
And to the dead here in this cemetery we say:
They are the race –
they are the race immortal,
Whose beams make broad
the common light of day!
Though Time may dim,
though Death has barred their portal,
These we salute,
which nameless passed away.
President Kennedy, who saw heavy combat in the Pacific Theater of WWII, was no stranger to the experiences and sacrifices witnessed by those who served in the armed forces of the United States. So when he uttered the above words at Arlington National Cemetery on November 11th, 1961 he did so not only as our nation’s highest official and commander in chief of our armed forces, but as a veteran. A veteran who, as we all should on this day, voiced the true reasons we celebrate Veterans Day: to honor those who served and look forward to a future when a peaceful world means no more will have to risk and sacrifice as they so courageously have.