- - Thursday, November 9, 2017

“Freedom or Death.” That was the password issued by Gen. George Washington as he and the Colonial Army prepared to cross the Delaware River to unleash a surprise attack on the Hessian soldiers camped in Trenton, N.J. What was at stake that infamous day? The answer: the very freedom of our nation. The Colonial Army were our first veterans.

I repeat this quote/password because we, as Americans, sometimes tend to lose our focus about what is important. Some treat Veterans Day as a “token day off” and the parades and honors dinners that take place are not applicable to them. They could not be further from the truth.

In November, 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemorative of Armistice Day with the following words, “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 “

However, it was not until May 13, 1938 that made the 11th day of November in each year a legal holiday — a day dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.”

Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the nation’s history, after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938, by striking out “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.”

It was approved on June 1, 1954 that Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

Later that same year, on Oct. 8, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation.” Then, in June 1968, the Uniform Holiday Bill was passed and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on Oct. 25, 1971. The commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance and so on Sept. 20, 1975 President Gerald R. Ford signed a law returning the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of Nov. 11, beginning in 1978.

I am an “ambassador” to the Coalition To Salute America’s Heroes — a non-profit veterans organization whose motto is “Mission Before Self.” The organization serves disabled men and women who are returning from the war on terror and their road to recovery. It is a humbling to be a part of their mission. I am there to support these men and women and their families — they have served and they have sacrificed.

Some veterans return home mentally and emotionally scarred with wounds that often are not apparent. Others have visible wounds and their respective families have been tested beyond comprehension. There is no doubt the “veteran family” serves when their loved one is deployed. The veterans who have served in no matter what capacity, have signed a blank check.

I’ve spent time with our troops in Afghanistan (2009) and Iraq (2016-17), and I have witnessed and experienced their commitment to honor, duty and service. They put their lives in harm’s way to protect and serve others. Talk about “standing with giants” and being in the “arena of greatness.” Everything pales in comparison.

It is crucially important that Americans remember Veterans Day in terms of service, sacrifice, dedication, duty and commitment — and those who have given their lives so all “freedom-loving Americans” can rest.

When you see a veteran, say hello, shake their hand and thank them for their service. You may never fully grasp how much it means to them. They may respond humbly, “you’re welcome” or “thank you” or “it was my honor.”

When the National Anthem is played no matter what the venue, Americans should face the flag, right hand over heart and then, honoring all veterans. Anything less is breaking faith with those who have passed and those who currently serve. I would like to address the self-serving, selfish, out-of-touch athletes who do not honor the National Anthem, the flag and ultimately, our veterans properly.

Do these athletes think they are more important than say, Washington crossing the Delaware, the honored dead at Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Chosin Reservoir, la Drang, Fallujah, Ramadi, Mazar-I-Sharif? That is where American servicemen and women have fought for the nation’s freedom. The history, then and now, speaks for itself today more so than ever.

To each and every veteran who has worn the uniform, served our nation, signed the “blank check” and answered the calling to “stand on the wall” for us, we thank you.

Emmy-nominated actor Jack Scalia studied with servicemen and women for his role in “The Black Tulip.” He is an ambassador to the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes.

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