Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd
November 10, 2005
A Tribute to America's Veterans
Senator Byrd paid tribute to America's veterans with this speech in the U.S. Senate.
Friday, November 11, is celebrated in this country as Veterans Day. It is always held on the 11th of November in memory of the end of World War I. In that "War to End All Wars" what wishful, optimistic thinking! all guns were laid down on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at eleven o'clock a.m. on November 11th, 1918. On that fateful hour, I am sure that many prayers of thanksgiving flew heavenward as Doughboys and their families rejoiced at their survival in spite of the most bitter and horrible fighting the world had yet experienced.
World War I saw the introduction of new and more deadly forms of warfare, as technology and chemistry were brought to bear on the battlefield. Horses were replaced by the first crude tanks and self-propelled guns. Monoplanes and biplanes brought warfare to the skies overhead for the first time.
Chemical weapons, terrible and deadly, clouded the trenches. Diseases stalked the fields as well, from trenchfoot to the deadly Spanish flu that killed combatants and civilians alike. It was a dreadful time, one that would surely erase the desire to battle, if only that desire could be wiped from the human genome.
In 2005, in wake of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, the Cold War and repeated conflicts in the Balkans, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, World War I seems almost quaint. There was no threat of nuclear war bringing vast destruction to our homeland. There was no threat of terrorist attacks against innocent civilians. There was some respect for non-combatants, and there were no kidnappings or concentration camps.
Today's battlefield is amorphous. It touches humanitarian volunteers and journalists. It strikes at soldiers in their weary bivouacs, and it threatens to reach again into our everyday lives and travels. Our battle-stained soldiers get no rest.
This Veterans Day, we are at war on three fronts. First, let us never forget that we have troops in Afghanistan, still struggling to defeat the remnants of those who attacked us on September 11, 2001. They do not receive as much press coverage as the conflict in Iraq, but their fight is taking place in the heartland of the Taliban, the refuge of last resort for the mastermind of the 9-11 attack, Osama bin Laden. Our prayers go out to those brave men and women who labor in the deserts and the high, cold mountains of that embattled land. Your efforts and your sacrifices are not forgotten.
Second, we also have troops in Iraq, in a battle of our choosing. It is a battle that is consuming a high and bloody price on each difficult day. Our anxious prayers are with those men and women too, who must face each day not knowing what is around each corner or along each dangerous roadway. They may be sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that whatever we do here to question or investigate the circumstances that led to their deployment to Iraq, they have our unwavering respect and support in addition to our prayers. Those of their comrades who have paid a dear price and who lie wounded in hospitals have our thanks and sincere wishes for a speedy recovery. To the families who have lost a loved one in battle in service to our nation, we owe a great debt. They have no Veterans Day prayer of thanksgiving, only the honored memory of their loved one.
Our third war is taking place at home, as the nation struggles to put in place protections to deter, prevent, or respond to a terror attack within our borders. The military, the Department of Homeland Security, and state and local first responders all must define and organize themselves to meet these new threats. We are all familiar with the early responses, from machine-gun wielding National Guardsmen patrolling our airports to fighter jets circling overhead on combat air patrol. We now dutifully take our shoes off for inspection before boarding a plane, and we park farther from public buildings. We are reviewing what role the military should play in responding to terror attacks or natural disasters. We are debating what legal protections and due process are due to those who are accused of involvement in suspected terror plots. We are weighing what loss of privacy with regard to our electronic transactions, even our library book withdrawals and web searches, is commensurate with the threat to our safety. These new threats have made significant changes in our way of life, to be sure. Thankfully, we have not been tested again so far.
The changes in our daily routines are minute, however, in comparison to the challenges facing our men and women in uniform. Their foes wear no uniforms, no recognizable insignia. They travel in crowds, in taxis and buses, in private cars and cement trucks loaded with explosives. They target diplomats, journalists, and those laboring to improve local living conditions as well as those in uniform. They target their own countrymen serving to keep the peace on their neighborhood streets. They come from other nations, driven by a fanaticism most of us cannot fathom, let alone comprehend. Our men and women in uniform are fighting the hardest kind of war against a chameleon foe hidden in plain sight among the passing crowd. They have made repeated trips to the battlefield as our overstretched forces must deploy and redeploy. My heart goes out to them and my prayers are with them.
American men and women in the military services customarily state that they are proud to serve, proud to answer the nation's call. Know that this Senator, too is proud ñ proud and thankful for the bravery and skill of our nation's soldiers, sailors and airmen. And I am proud of the families who support our troops with their love, their care packages, their prayers, and their loving welcomes home.
On Veterans Day, the nation pays its respects to the men and women who have served and are now serving our nation in uniform, and who have faced or are facing our foes in battle. Give them your thanks, and give them their due. They are true patriots. They have faced great dangers for each and every one of us.
I close with a poem by Edgar Guest:
The things that make a soldier great and send him out to die,
To face the flaming cannon's mouth nor ever question why,
Are lilacs by a little porch, the row of tulips red,
The peonies and pansies, too, the old petunia bed,
The grass plot where his children play, the roses on the wall:
'Tis these that make a soldier great.
He's fighting for them all.
'Tis not the pomp and pride of kings that make a soldier brave;
'Tis not allegiance to the flag that over him may wave;
For soldiers never fight so well on land or on the foam
As when behind the cause they see the little place called home.
Endanger but that humble street whereon his children run,
You make a soldier of the man who never bore a gun.
What is it through the battle smoke the valiant soldier sees?
The little garden far away, the budding apple trees,
The little patch of ground back there, the children at their play,
Perhaps a tiny mound behind the simple church of gray.
The golden thread of courage isn't linked to castle dome
But to the spot, where'er it be ñ the humblest spot called home.
And now the lilacs bud again and all is lovely there
And homesick soldiers far away know spring is in the air;
The tulips come to bloom again, the grass once more is green,
And every man can see the spot where all his joys have been.
He sees his children smile at him, he hears the bugle call,
And only death can stop him now ñ he's fighting for them all.
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