At 11 minutes after 11am on the 11the day of the 11th month of this year, 2011, I was sitting at the UNC Veterans Memorial adjacent to Memorial Hall. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ROTC programs joined together to present their annual Veterans Day tribute. The theme this year was “Honoring All Who Served.” As the cadets and midshipmen from the Army, Navy and Air Force programs stood in their formation ignoring the cool wind blowing all around, a crowd of veterans, university employees, local citizens, campus students, and school kids bore witness to the honor and respect that they had for the day.
At 11:11am, the Bell Tower rang out 11 bells of tribute to commemorate the 1918 armistice that ended the “war to end all wars.” The Professor of Naval Science, Captain Douglass Wright, USN, delivered remarks about the meaning of Veterans Day and called to everyone’s attention those from UNC who served in uniform, and in some cases, paid the ultimate price. He also recognized veterans in the audience from the WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Post-Vietnam eras. Midshipman Third Class Bryan Baliff, who opened the ceremony by playing the National Anthem, delivered a beautiful rendition of Taps and the program ended with the playing of each service song.
As I looked at the young women and men standing in formation in their dress uniforms, I could only wonder what the future held for them. Where will they serve? What sacrifices will they bear? What new technologies will we have for them? All of these questions, important as they are, were not things I thought much about some 47 years ago when I joined Army ROTC. It also struck me that some of those standing there in the formation had parents who weren’t even born when I first stood in a similar formation. These women and men standing in formation were some of our “best and brightest” and had made a choice to pursue military service by obtaining a commission through one of the ROTC programs.
We can only hope that other young men and women will continue to elect to serve our country in uniform. Given what we see facing today’s veterans, it might not be a choice a lot of or young people might continue to make in the future. They know that we have unemployed veterans, homeless veterans, and veterans facing tremendous medical challenges. It is only right that they would wonder how they might fare when they become veterans.
George Washington told us many years ago “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.” So I ask you, are we sending our young people the right message about how we as a nation, a state, a county, and town treat our veterans? Are we taking care of those who need help? Are we showing them our appreciation?
I ask all in our community who enjoy the freedoms and safety provided by our currently serving troops and our future veterans, to consider the demands and sacrifices placed on our military members and their families. We have asked them to shoulder enormous demands that have no counterpart in civilian employment.  On Veteran’s Day and every day, honor those now serving, the veterans who have served, and all of their families for their patriotism and sacrifices for the common good.  Demand that our elected leaders at every level of government take proper care of our veterans.
What do you say?