Veteran parade for commentary

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ken Patterson, retired, waves an American flag on a Segway as he makes his way along the parade route during the 2017 Veterans Day Parade in Inverness. Staff Sgt. Patterson is a double amputee, losing both legs following injuries sustained in Afghanistan when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the helicopter he was aboard.

As we contemplate the meaning of Veterans Day in America as members of the Citrus County community, we have an important opportunity to pause and reflect upon the selfless service and innumerable personal sacrifices made by so many patriots who have been called upon to serve our nation. Florida is home to more than 1,491,000 veterans, the nation’s third largest population of veterans. Most importantly, Citrus County has 20,859 veterans right here in our community. We are blessed to have veterans with us who served in World War II all the way through the present day. With an adult population of 125,888, that number means that one out of every six adults in our county has served in a uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States of America at some point in their lives.

This year — the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day in the United States — it is all the more important that we pause, reflect and thank our epic line of distinguished patriots — our veterans — who have donned the cloth of the United States to selflessly serve others. For my fellow veterans, thank you for your service and personal sacrifices in times of both peace and war. Thank you for leading the way and for forging an impenetrable foundation for future generations to stand upon as our great nation continues upon its journey into the future.

As a nation, we owe our veterans a huge debt of gratitude, and we must never forget the cautionary words President Coolidge said long ago, “The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.” I recently came across this message from Nov. 11, 1919, where President Woodrow Wilson issued a message to his countrymen on the first Armistice Day, in which he expressed what he felt the day meant to Americans.

Address to fellow countrymen

The White House, Nov. 11, 1919.

“A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations. The soldiers and people of the European Allies had fought and endured for more than four years to uphold the barrier of civilization against the aggressions of armed force. We ourselves had been in the conflict something more than a year and a half.

“With splendid forgetfulness of mere personal concerns, we remodeled our industries, concentrated our financial resources, increased our agricultural output, and assembled a great army, so that at the last our power was a decisive factor in the victory. We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral, of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought.

“Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men.

“To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”

A lot has happened to our country in the ensuing 100 years since President Wilson’s timeless speech. However, the steadfast valor, fidelity and undying allegiance to our country and its ideals has never been stronger. As members of this priceless, veteran-rich community, let’s welcome our veterans home today and thank them for their service every day of the year. Our nation, our state and our community all have much to be thankful for now and every day. As President George H. W. Bush noted in 1991, “From our fiery birth in 1776 to freedom’s latest triumphs in the Persian Gulf, America’s veterans have always answered the call and given their all whenever tyrants and despots imperiled freedom and democracy.”

The blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a manner in which we choose has been fought for and, in some cases, died for by our veterans. Let us never forget their sacrifices over the course of our history, and let us be an example to others of what thankfulness and remembrance is supposed to be like. If we fail, we may imperil our nation and our future.

God bless our veterans and their families, and God bless the United States of America.

Mike Prendergast is a retired U.S. Army colonel.