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Honor to all who served

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE  — On Veterans Day let us pause to remember those who have served our country. Many of the thoughts and words that follow come from Dave Clary of Roswell, a loyal reader and an abundant source of information, inspiration and ideas.

All those who heeded their call to duty deserve to be honored but today let us pay tribute to some of those who were our heroes.

On Oct. 18, 1918, Alvin York, an American draftee corporal from the hills of East Tennessee (and a religious pacifist who had been denied conscientious-objector status) almost single-handedly took out three German machine gun nests, killed at least 25 enemy soldiers and captured 138 troops. Then, with a half-dozen men surviving from his squad, he led them back through American lines.

This remarkable feat made him the outstanding American hero of World War I, winning him the Distinguished Service Cross for the captures and his country’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for the assault on the machine gun nests.

Audie Murphy was America’s most decorated soldier of World War II. Like York, he was a simple farm boy, who performed valorous deeds that not even his fellow soldiers could comprehend. Among his many awards was the Medal of Honor. He returned home a hero and was recognized as such. With his good looks, he became a movie star and eventually a movie was made of his life.

But heroes do not commonly fare well in peacetime. Whatever it is that makes a man disregard his own life for the sake of his fellows can affect him in ways he is unable to overcome. They are different from the rest of us. For whatever reason, they did more than their duty, but something far beyond. In our country the rates of drunkenness, depression and suicide are higher among surviving Medal of Honor winners than almost any other group in our population.

Audie Murphy’s life speaks for many of his fellow heroes. It may have been better had his country not tried so hard to treat him as the hero he was. His acting ability was limited and he was tormented by the thought that he got there only because of his fame and looks. His persistent depression ended when he lost his life in an airplane crash two decades after receiving his Medal of Honor.

Alvin York was an exception. He went home to a farm provided him by a grateful state and lived out his life peacefully until Gary Cooper won an Oscar playing him in a 1941 movie. Under renewed attention, York served as head of his local draft board after volunteering for service in World War II and being rejected.

Veterans Day originally was called Armistice Day after the Armistice was signed by Germany on Nov. 11, 1918. In 1954, the name was changed in order to honor all veterans.

So how should we honor our heroes on this patriotic holiday? Perhaps it is enough that we just remember them, while also remembering all those who did their duty.

Veterans Day has fallen on hard times of late. Communities don’t have parades any longer to honor their veterans. Those who attend ceremonies now are veterans honoring veterans. And then Congress tried but couldn’t commit the ultimate insult.

In 1971, amid the fever to make all holidays long weekends, Congress declared that Veterans Day, henceforth, would be celebrated on the fourth weekend in October. How could a national holiday, designated to celebrate the signing of the World War I armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month be rescheduled to any other date or time?

It took seven years, but in 1978, veterans and others convinced Congress to restore Veterans Day to its proper place on the calendar. So it now stands proudly, along with the Fourth of July as the only patriotic holidays that aren’t on a movable Monday.