Updated: December 12, 2012 6:39AM
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we pause to honor the 1 percent.
Not the 1 percent who are the financially elite of recent political debates.
The 1 percent of America who stand watch on our safety and our peace and who protect us from a hostile world.
Every decade or so, whom we honor and why we do it shifts subtly on this day, Veterans Day. Every time a war ends, we recalibrate the national mood to reflect why specific moments are significant to us.
We celebrate the Fourth of July as the nation’s birthday and to cherish the freedom that was so essential to its birth. We celebrate Memorial Day to remember and thank those who gave their lives to preserve our freedom. And on Veterans Day we honor all those who have served their country.
The holiday began as a way to honor the exact moment when a signed armistice in 1918 ended World War I, “the war to end all wars.” The day was to symbolize both the pending permanent peace while showing respect to those who gave it to us.
How naive that concept of a lasting peace seems these days. After World War II and the Korean War, Congress in 1954 changed the holiday to Veterans Day, which we now view in the context of international terrorism.
That’s our “war” now. We might have an ending someday, but it seems unlikely within our lives. The Iraq War is over, and the one in Afghanistan is a year away from whatever conclusion results from our exit.
Today we honor those who did what we asked — they left our shores to fight overseas in our names and, if they were fortunate, they came home.
The “coming home” component of the compact is most significant. They have come home to be parents and citizens, to build the nation anew. Some returned damaged permanently. Our debt to them endures.
There will be parades and flags and stirring speeches today. That’s fine. But today we honor their military service. Let us remind them of that every day: Thank you, and welcome home.