One hundred years ago this month, on Nov. 11, 1919, King George V of England hosted a public gathering at Buckingham Palace to mark the one-year anniversary of the signing of the armistice ending World War I and to remember those who died in the effort.
In so doing, he started a tradition that lives on a century later, in various forms, in most of the countries involved in that conflict.
In the United States, which already had a history of celebrating Memorial Day (or Decoration Day, in some locations) to honor the war dead, Armistice Day became Veterans Day and a tribute to all those who served in the military.
Several years ago, the editors and publishers of Pamplin Media Group decided to begin writing profiles of veterans living in the communities served by our print and digital publications.
In the first couple of years there was an effort to profile World War II veterans, many of whom were in their late 90s.
Many from that Greatest Generation cautioned against glorifying their service, echoing the assessment of William Tecumseh Sherman, the union Civil War general who famously said "War is hell. You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it."
Many balked at the notion that they were heroes.
Still, within their varied experiences was a common theme about those who found purpose in a noble shared effort that was applauded around the world.
Since then, our profiles have expanded to reflect the diversity of those who have served in the U.S. military. The 2019 edition of Salute to Veterans, which is inserted in print editions of Pamplin papers this week, features profiles of a few WWII veterans, but also the men — and, notably, women — who served in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and in the reserves.
They include Mike Burton, a former Oregon legislator and director of Metro, the regional government, whose life was torn asunder by his experiences in Vietnam. Today, Burton serves as a counselor for other vets.
Their stories show the complexity of service to country. Some veterans shared fond memories: the camaraderie that comes from living (and, at times, fighting) in close quarters; the value of living in foreign lands; and the skills they learned along the way.
A few recounted true acts of bravery. But many also showed a different kind of courage by talking candidly about their struggles to deal with the trauma they were exposed to; the toll their service took on their personal lives; and even questions they had about the value of their missions.
A poll released by the Pew Research Center in July found 64% of veterans believe the war in Iraq "was not worth" the cost we paid. That dissatisfaction, interestingly, was slightly higher than that of Americans who did not serve. A slightly lower majority of veterans (58%) said the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting.
The conversations we had with more than two dozen local veterans reflect those differing opinions. Our hope is that by sharing their varied experiences, we will bring a greater understanding of the challenges veterans face while we continue the century-old tradition of honoring their service to their country.
If you missed the special print edition or want to find other local stories related to veterans, go to the Saluting Our Veterans section on the home page of pamplinmedia.com
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