Former naval intelligence specialist Jake Welch wants to spend Veterans Day acknowledging the emotional wounds of those who served in wartime.
Mr. Welch, who was in the Navy for seven years, plans to ride 425 miles in four days to raise money for veterans’ mental health care. The 36-year-old expects to leave Friday morning from Springfield, Virginia, and arrive early next week in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
“Their incredible sacrifices warrant our support, and when I ride, I’ll be thinking about that unpayable debt,” said Mr. Welch, who raised $1,800 bicycling more than 8,000 miles for the nonprofit Hope for the Warriors last year. He is riding for the group again this year.
He’s among millions of military veterans who will spend Friday’s holiday remembering the sacrifices of men and women in uniform, telling stories of pre-pandemic battles and reflecting prayerfully.
Roughly 18 million Americans are veterans of the armed forces, about 7% of the overall population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The annual federal holiday honoring them originally marked the armistice that ended World War I at the 11th hour of the 11th day of November 1918.
Most of today’s surviving war veterans served in Vietnam and the Middle East. A dwindling number of World War II and Korean War veterans are well into their 90s.
Iraq War veteran Melissa Stockwell, the first American woman to lose a leg in combat, earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for her service. The former Army officer lost her left leg in 2004, when a roadside bomb exploded as she led a convoy in Baghdad.
On Oct. 9, Ms. Stockwell, 42, ran the Army Ten-Miler in Arlington, Virginia, with a prosthetic leg — reinforcing the message she wants to share on Veterans Day.
“Men and women who have worn our nation’s uniform have sacrificed their own safety in order to protect the freedoms we all have,” the two-time Paralympic triathlete said. “Our nation’s veterans should be honored not just on Veterans Day, but every day.”
She ran for Semper Fi & America’s Fund, a support group for wounded veterans that has financed her training equipment and race entrance fees.
Other activities this week will be quieter, as military families visit war memorials and attend prayer services in Washington.
An honor flight of 26 World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans arrived Monday with their family and caregivers from Hawaii. They plan to visit war memorials on the National Mall and watch the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
The group includes three WWII veterans, six from the Korean War and 17 from the Vietnam era, according to Alaska Airlines, which organized the no-charge flight.
Another 90 Vietnam veterans arrived Tuesday morning at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia on the Quad Cities Honor Flight from Moline, Illinois. They will follow a similar schedule.
Military chaplains will offer prayer services for the veterans and their families this week. Services include a 7 p.m. Mass that the Archdiocese for Military Services will offer Friday at St. Dominic Church in Southwest Washington.
“Veterans Day reminds me of the privilege to serve the finest men and women of our country who sacrifice so much and risk life itself to protect the Constitution and to defend us,” Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio said in an email. “I pray for their health, safety, and authentic freedom.”
The thoughts and prayers of the holiday make a difference, according to war veterans who have struggled to adjust to civilian life.
Purple Heart recipient Mea Peterson, wounded in Iraq in a rocket attack, says she’s been “lucky to have strong people” in her life. She never expected to go on active duty when she joined the Tennessee National Guard at the age of 18 in 2001.
Today, she volunteers as an advocate for women wounded in combat, like herself.
“Returning home was an extremely hard adjustment. My friends and family did the best they could to assist but I just felt no one could understand nor relate,” said Ms. Peterson, who participates in veterans running clubs and sportfishing tournaments. “Some of this trauma led to ending a 10-year marriage.”
Army Sgt. 1st Class Michelle Gabourel, stationed at Fort Myer in Arlington, recently cooked for veterans at the Blue Star Families Annual Celebration Event on Oct. 27 in Washington’s Union Station.
The Woodbridge, Virginia, resident says she will be thinking of her father, a Vietnam veteran, on Friday.
“I joined the military because of my dad,” Sgt. Gabourel said. “I was the only one of my siblings to follow in his footsteps and I am glad that I did.”