- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Frank W. Buckles, age 109, still gives interviews about World War I, of which he is the last living American veteran. By contrast, about 2.08 million American veterans of World War II remain among us, but nearly 1,000 die each day. More than 2.5 million Korean War veterans are still alive, and more than 7.5 million Vietnam vets. Gulf War vets number more than 2.25 million. In all, living veterans from war and peacetime service amount to nearly 24 million, including 1.4 million Americans currently on active duty. This amounts to less than 8 percent of the U.S. population. The other 92 percent of us owe them a debt of gratitude very difficult to repay.

At Veterans Day observances across the land, speakers today will quote Gen. George S. Patton, who stated, “Let me not mourn for the men who have died fighting, but rather let me be glad that such heroes have lived.” Yet gratitude only goes so far. So too for government assistance. About 3.16 million vets are disabled, with 290,000 of them considered to be “disabled 100 percent.” Some of these vets tragically fall through the cracks. Millions of others transitioned back into civilian life without honors or ceremony, and in some cases - such as the shameful 1960s and ‘70s - came home to undeserved ridicule. A few nice words, offered generically on Veterans Day, don’t suffice to honor their courage.

Thousands of volunteers step forward each year to provide services to veterans, but more always can be done. There are ample opportunities to help at many worthy charities. The Fisher House Foundation, for instance, provides a home away from home for military families to be close to loved ones during hospitalization. The PenFed Foundation offers troops and their families housing support and financial literacy to protect our heroes from predatory lenders. The Honor Flight Network flies World War II veterans to Washington to visit their memorial on the Mall, and soon it will do the same for Korean and Vietnam war vets. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs coordinates volunteering opportunities, and these are merely a few examples of the many ways Americans can give back to our defenders.

On Veterans Day 25 years ago, President Reagan reminded us that those who served in the armed forces furthered the cause of peace, not war. “Peace is only maintained and won by those who have clear eyes and brave minds,” he warned. “Strength is a prudent warning to the belligerent that aggression need not go unanswered.” Our military heroes personify this posture of national strength.

Frank Buckles, the last surviving Doughboy, understands the imperative of a strong Land of the Free. “That’s what makes America special,” he wrote last year. “As much as we want to avoid war, we’re ready to sacrifice everything if that’s what it takes to make sure the bad guys don’t win.” It is to the good guys who were willing to sacrifice everything that this day is dedicated. Let us honor their sacrifice by making freedom work.