“A time to be born, and a time to die;
…A time for war, and a time for peace.”
In honor of Veterans Day—Friday, November 11—I offer a short history lesson and a story.
Veterans day was originally called “Armistice Day,” denoting the the end of World War I, when hostilities ceased on November 11 at 11 a.m., 1918—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In 1938 Armistice Day was declared a legal holiday each year—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.
Then on November 11, 1947 Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, organized a “National Veterans Day” parade in Birmingham, Alabama to recognize veterans of all wars. This celebration led to Congress changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954 to recognize the veterans of all US wars.
Every Veterans Day, I think about the veterans I know, I think about the veterans I don’t know, and I consider the sacrifice made by veterans and their families. In fact, for the last decade, I’ve called my Uncle Edwin on Veterans Day and thanked him for his service during WWII. Two years ago, he said, “You are the only one who called me today.” I was shocked—and deeply saddened. He died around Memorial Day earlier this year. I thought about him several times on Friday and wished there was a way to call him.
A few years ago, I learned of a family in San Joaquin Valley, California who was mourning the loss of two sons killed in the war in Iraq. The Hubbard family lost one of their sons, Jared, to a roadside bomb in 2004. Months later, they also lost Nathan, 21, after the Blackhawk helicopter that he was in spiraled to the ground during a nighttime mission.
A third son who was also serving in Iraq, Jason Hubbard, escorted his brother’s flag-draped casket into a church so that more than 1,000 friends, family members, and military servicemen could say their final good byes.
Given the circumstances, military officials ordered the surviving son, Jason, to return to the United States and asked that he never again redeploy to a hostile firing zone.
I can’t imagine the pain that a family who has lost a child, a spouse, or a parent in wartime experiences, much less the Hubbard family’s pain in losing two sons. I was deeply moved by the weight of this tragedy and remembered a letter I read years before.
In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln penned a letter to Lydia Bixby, a bereaved mother who supposedly lost five sons during the Civil War. Although it was later determined that only two of her sons perished in the war and that some experts say that Lincoln was not the true author of the letter, it is still significant—eloquently powerful, sincere and sympathetic. No matter who wrote the letter, it speaks from the heart of most Americans.
The Bixby Letter
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
Friends, fly your flags year-round. Thank military servicemen and servicewomen. Support families who have loved ones who are deployed in dangerous areas of the world. Hug the family members and friends of our fallen soldiers—hug them often. Talk to your children about America’s history and the price of freedom. And never allow yourself or those around you to forget the personal sacrifices that extraordinary men and women have made for our country.