Two events in the news remind me of the connection to those who have served in the armed forces during peacetime and war. The first is the one-hundred-year commemoration of World War I and the second is the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Veteran’s Day began as “Armistice Day” on November 11, 1919 to commemorate the first anniversary of the end of World War I, the “Great War” and the “war to end all wars.” Veterans who have seen combat know that there is no “Great War” and it was very optimistic to think this was the end of war. One hundred years later we still find it necessary to keep a substantial presence in Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard and participate in operations throughout the world. In recent years, this has been more widespread with battle lines less well defined than ever.
A recent article in Time discussed the initial visits of British and American mothers, sisters and wives to the battlefield of World War I to seek closure. What they found was described as “loneliness and dreadfulness and sadness” in the desolate landscape of the Western Front for years after the conflict ended. They spoke of closure through connecting with others about the “awfulness of war” and their losses.
The fall of the Berlin Wall marks the end of the Cold War, which was the posturing between the liberal democratic Western Europe and the communist Eastern Europe. We were not in a shooting war but a stand-off between two nuclear powers. During this “peacetime” in the late 70s and the 80s, millions of Veterans served. Many spent months away from their families training and deploying to prevent war. Eventually, the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Cold War, fell due to the strength projected by the readiness of our peacetime soldiers.
Most Veterans survive combat but are left with physical and emotional scars. Even more, some veterans have never seen combat but have played a role both in wartime and peacetime in supporting their fellow soldiers and the ideals of democracy that our founding fathers outlined in the US Constitution, which continues to be the living, evolving document that all military are sworn to uphold and protect. True democracy, as an organizing principle for government, is in decline throughout the world. Let us connect, hear and preserve the stories and service of the 21 million veterans among our family and friends.
Contributed by Dr. Robert Fleck and edited by Glenn Miñano, BFA.
Dr. Fleck did his radiology training while in the Navy. He served his final two years in the Navy as the pediatric radiologist at Naval Medical Center San Diego with additional duty as a radiology department head on the hospital ship MERCY.