As the nation observed the Veterans Day holiday Nov. 12, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta issued a message paying tribute to the men and women who have served the United States in uniform.
Here is the secretary’s message:
Since our nation’s founding, brave young Americans from every generation have answered the call to serve in uniform and put their lives on the line to defend this country. Today, we honor all of those who’ve added new chapters to that very proud legacy of selflessness and sacrifice. On this Veterans Day I recall how, as a boy in California, I had the great privilege of greeting and thanking soldiers that were stationed near my home and destined to fight in World War II. In the years that followed, I knew veterans of the Korean War, who fought bravely in unimaginably difficult conditions. During the Vietnam era, I served in the Army and I remember how our nation failed to fully recognize the costs and sacrifices made by those who served in that war. Our nation has learned from that failure, and as we mark the 50th anniversary of that war, we honor our Vietnam veterans for all they have done for our country.
The United States is now emerging from the longest continuous time of war in its history, and a new generation of veterans is returning home. They have carried a very heavy burden. They’ve dealt with multiple deployments, long separations from loved ones, and the tragic consequences of war. Some have sustained grievous, life-altering injuries, and they are dealing with significant challenges, both seen and unseen. Our veterans are also much stronger because of their hard won experiences in the deserts of Iraq, the mountains of Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world. They are leaders who take responsibility and initiative, who think independently, and who inspire others. They are trained to operate some of the world’s most sophisticated technical equipment. Above all, they love the country that they’ve served so well in uniform, and they are already giving back to their communities here at home. Over the next five years, more than one million service men and women will leave the armed services and transition back to civilian life. Some will finally be able to marry the person they love and start a family. Others will be reunited with husbands, wives, and children after years spent apart. By pursuing the dream of giving their children a better life, our nation’s veterans will help shape the future of this country. They will be doctors and lawyers, teachers and nurses, mayors and members of Congress. America owes each of our veterans — from every generation — gratitude and support. November is Military Family Month, a time for all Americans to do more to recognize and support the members of their community who have fought on our behalf. For those who are transitioning out of military service, in particular, we must do everything we can to help them find a job, start a business, or obtain a quality education. These veterans are national assets who stand ready to contribute to our economic recovery and to a stronger America.
Let us all renew our pledge to fight for those who fight for us with such bravery and distinction. In some small way, today and every day, find a way to thank a veteran. Nothing means more to them than knowing that their service and sacrifice is appreciated right here at home. Thanks to our veterans, the American dream is safe and secure for us and our children. Thank you, and may God bless all Americans serving around the world in uniform.