No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation.
— General of the Army Douglas MacArthur
Veterans Day — which is always observed on November 11 regardless of what day of the week it falls on — commemorates all those who have served honorably in the U.S. military, both in wartime and in peacetime, as distinct from Memorial Day, which honors those who died in military service.
Let us pause on Veterans Day 2023, therefore, to reflect on the many millions of men and women who for nearly two and half centuries have answered the call to defend our nation— and who continue to do so now. There are 1.3 million active-duty military personnel today, including some 172,000 permanently assigned to overseas duty.
Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day, which was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 to honor those who served in World War I. Like most of our WW I allies, we Americans observe the holiday on November 11 because that terrible conflict ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name from Armistice to Veterans Day because the holiday had come to honor veterans of all U.S. wars, not just WW I. In 1968, Congress moved the celebration to the fourth Monday in October. But in 1975, because of the historical significance of the date, President Gerald Ford restored the observance to November 11.
Even as we honor our veterans’ service, let us remember that they continue contributing to American society long after their time in uniform. They use the lessons they’ve learned and the experiences they’ve acquired in the military to improve our communities as police officers, firefighters, teachers, community volunteers and countless other vital roles.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau:
The number of U.S. military veterans in 2022 was 16.2 million, representing 6.2% of the total civilian population age 18 and over.
The number of female veterans in 2022 was 1.7 million, representing 10.3% of the total veteran population.
The percentage of veterans age 75 and older in 2022 was 26.5%. At the other end of the age spectrum, 8.5% of veterans were younger than 35.
So let us once again dedicate this special day to honoring all those who have stepped forward, often at great personal sacrifice, to defend our nation and its freedoms. We salute them, and with deep gratitude we thank them for their service.
Robert L. Dilenschneider is the Founder and CEO of The Dilenschneider Group, an international communications firm that provides strategic advice and counsel to Fortune 500 companies and leading families and individuals in fields ranging from mergers and acquisitions, to crisis communications, to marketing, government affairs and foreign media.