By Shereen Siewert, Wausau Pilot & Review Publisher

Today, on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, we mark Veterans Day, honoring those who served in the U.S. military. To each and every one of you, we are humbly grateful for your service, your sacrifice and your dedication to this great country.

We are forever in your debt.

As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website explains, the holiday has its roots in the celebration of Armistice Day. In the 11th hour of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War.” Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning the following year, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938.

Following World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day evolved into Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars. The law that officially designated Nov. 11 as Veterans Day was signed in 1975 by then-President Gerald Ford. runs the numbers as we honor veterans today: 

  • 19 million living veterans served during at least one war as of April 2021.
  • 5.9 million veterans served during the Vietnam War.
  • 7.8 million veterans served in the Gulf War era.
  • Of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, about 240,000 were still alive as of 2021.
  • 933,000 veterans served during the Korean War.
  • As of 2021, the top three states with the highest percentage of veterans were Alaska, Virginia and Montana. Wisconsin has 331,340 veterans, or 5,662 for every 100,000 people.

We’ve lost many veterans of World War II. We’re also losing those who fought in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. We know from the experience of veterans close to us that time spent on the front lines can leave veterans with deep physical and emotional scars that those of us who did not serve can only try to comprehend.

As the Department of Veterans Affairs explains, this day is set aside “to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”

Today, it seems the “common good” is a concept that has gotten lost amid the ongoing turmoil of partisan politics, and that’s unfortunate.

The courageous people who served in this nation’s armed forces made unthinkable sacrifices for the common good — for fellow Americans who were strangers to them. Most had the luxury of not even knowing what sacrifices were being made on their behalf.

On not just this day, but every day, we are deeply grateful for your service to our nation.