Veterans Day 2013 comes as America's armed forces are in the process of ending more than a dozen years of major fighting. The U.S. military presence in Iraq ended in 2011. Although 50,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan, they are involved in the end game leading to a scheduled departure at the end of next year.
It would be wrong to assume that the age of swords being turned into plowshares has arrived. In the age of terrorism, the world remains a dangerous place. Even if the nation isn't recklessly drawn into other major conflicts, such as Syria, small-scale involvements are inevitable.
We will soon enter a time of respite, not stand-down. It is not the circumstances that President Abraham Lincoln was describing in his second Inaugural Address toward the end of the Civil War, but there is a parallel. This, too, is a time "to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan. ..."
Today brings that opportunity. Veterans Day is about those who have borne the battle. It began as Armistice Day to honor those who served in World War I, inspired by the dreadful symmetry of the moment when the guns stopped firing in 1918 -- the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. In 1954, with the arrival of new generations who served in World War II and Korea, it became Veterans Day.
Old-timers will remember when the chimes of 11 a.m. marked a solemn moment when ordinary citizens stood at attention. In a more informal age, thanks for veterans can be expressed with more vocal enthusiasm. The Pittsburgh Veterans Day parade offers such an opportunity: It starts on Grant Street and Liberty Avenue, Downtown, at 10.30 a.m. and winds its way to the Boulevard of the Allies. Give them a cheer, three times 11 on Nov. 11.
Today, give all who served a kind word, whether they are assembled together or encountered individually. It doesn't matter where they served, when they served or how they served. It matters only that they did serve and so helped secure the blessings of freedom for all Americans. The long war in Afghanistan is winding down, but the need for those who serve is not.