Column | Proudly serving veterans every day

November 11, 2013 

On this day, we honor our nation’s heroes, our veterans.

Veterans Day traces its lineage back 95 years, to 1918, when the guns fell silent across the battlefields of Europe. Nearly 5 million Americans served in “the world war,” as it was known then. More than 53,000 Americans did not return. The war was billed as the “war to end all wars.”

But just more than two decades later, another “world war” erupted, during which 16 million Americans served and 300,000 made the ultimate sacrifice to free Europe, Africa and the Pacific from tyranny.

Just six years later, nearly 2 million Americans were called to serve in Korea, where 33,000 of their comrades gave their lives to rescue a desperate people from communist aggression.

More than 3.4 million men and women served in Vietnam. The names of 58,000 who died are listed on a long black wall in the nation’s capital.

Since Vietnam, Americans have deployed under arms to nearly a dozen troubled lands: Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, and the Middle East. In addition, 2.4 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 5,300 have been killed in action, more than 50,000 have been wounded, and more than 1,600 of the wounded have lost an arm or a leg.

The veterans who fought the “war to end all wars” are all gone now. But more than a million veterans of the World War II are still with us, as are about 21 million veterans of all the wars since then. There are 22 million witnesses to both the hard truth that wars still trouble the earth, and the proud fact that courageous Americans of every generation still step forward to fight for freedom.

For the Department of Veterans Affairs, every day is Veterans Day. VA provides world-class health care to qualified veterans nationwide. The James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona and the outpatient clinics in DuBois, Johnstown and State College provide care to 25,000 veterans each year. Our staff of more than 600 employees proudly serve the heroes who come to us each day seeking medical care, emotional support and the camaraderie of being with fellow veterans.

On behalf of the staff and the volunteers, I thank all of the veterans in the 14 counties we serve and say, thank you for your service and sacrifice.

William Mills is the director of the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center.

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