Veterans Day is always a special time for our country, but it promises to be even more memorable on Friday because of its location on the calendar.
That’s because, for the first time ever, the year aligns perfectly with the holiday’s specific time of remembrance. It will be another century before anyone else can pause to honor those who have served our country on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year.
The holiday, originally called Armistice Day, was first set aside to commemorate the end of World War I. More than 4 million Americans served during the four years of fighting, and the last of those passed away in February at the age of 110. Now, only one WWI veteran remains in the United Kingdom, a former member of the Women’s Royal Air Force.
In 1954, Congress expanded the holiday to include veterans from all wars. Overall, about 42 million men and women have served their country since the Revolutionary War, and it’s estimated that more than half of them are still with us.
Kentucky, not surprisingly, has long played a major role when it comes to answering the call of duty, from the War of 1812 and the Civil War forward. About 84,000 Kentuckians took part in WWI, and more than 300,000 in World War II.
Tens of thousands followed them in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The state has worked to help the men and women who serve however we can. This past August, for example, marked 20 years since Kentucky’s first nursing home for veterans opened its doors in Jessamine County. More than 2,400 men and women have been admitted since then, and hundreds more have been helped by the other two veterans nursing homes – one in Western Kentucky, the other in Hazard – that will celebrate a decade of service early next year.
Veterans Day was made a state holiday in 1998, and the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs was established that year, too. Since 2000 the General Assembly has authorized several new state cemeteries for veterans; made it easier for older veterans to obtain their diploma if they joined the military before completing and increased employment opportunities in state government.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are about 385,000 veterans who call Kentucky home. The Department estimated the various benefits they earned topped $1.7 billion in 2010, or almost three times as much as they received in 2000.
These Kentucky heroes are among the ones we will recall as we gather this Friday at Veterans Day events here locally and across the nation. For those who are among this elite group, I want to take this opportunity to say how much we appreciate all that you did, often at great personal sacrifice.
We can never fully repay you, but always know that you and your actions will never be forgotten, especially on the 11th hour of the11th day of the 11th month for many years to come.