By Lisa Whaley
This Saturday marks a day of vital importance to all communities throughout the U.S. — Veterans Day.
Set aside as a way to honor U.S. veterans, both living and dead, the day actually got its start at the close of World War I — with Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, commonly cited as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
In November of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson would officially declare the Nov. 11 date “Armistice Day,” noting that the day would be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service.”
It would be another 35 years before the day would expand to include not only World War I and its veterans, but veterans of all wars.
Of course, honoring its veterans is nothing new to Unicoi County. We have the story of the Erwin Nine, that we treasure and repeat — the tale of nine local boys shot down separately during World War II, yet interred in the same prisoner of war camp.
We have the Unicoi County Veterans Memorial Park, a tribute that stands proudly in Erwin honoring Unicoi Countians who have given their lives in service.
Then there are the parades, speeches, banners and signs at every opportunity— all remembering our local veterans.
Finally we have the stories, those personal ones that we share — of fathers, mothers, uncles, brothers, cousins and more, who stepped forward to protect the ones at home.
It is in these stories I believe, the true power of Veterans Day lies.
In my family alone, I have a father and a brother, who served with distinction, as well as a number of uncles and cousins.
My father left the mountains of West Virginia to serve as a paratrooper in World War II, coming home with a Purple Heart and a collection of memories that would never leave him but ones he could neither share nor release.
My older brother was sent to Vietnam, leaving behind the mountains of Tennessee to fight at the tender age of 19. Fourteen years my senior, he is one of the best men I know, with a joke for everything and an inherent kindness to any he meets. Yet I know his service cost him in ways we at home can never understand.
That’s just my family and we were some of the lucky ones.
Current statistics say there are about 22 million veterans living in the United States. At this time, they range from World War II, Korean and Vietnam vets to those who served in Afghanistan, Irag Libya and Pakistan. Others, just as noble, took care of the home fires, keeping us safe during those brief moments of peace.
Whatever the service, I have no doubt that we can never do enough to honor these men and women who stood where we wouldn’t and couldn’t.
But we can say thank you, again and again. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your sacrifice.