Today marks the country's 95th observation of Veterans Day - a day set aside to honor those in every branch of the U.S. military. From parades to memorials to formal gatherings, Americans across the nation joined together today to remember those who served, those in active duty, those returning home, and those who paid the ultimate price for their country.
Veterans Day was instituted by President Woodrow Wilson after World War I ended in 1918. The war ended on the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year, thus the nation's observance of veterans each year on Nov. 11.
Originally proclaimed Armistice Day by President Wilson, commemorating the truce between Germany and the Allied nations, it was changed to Veterans Day in the mid-1950s. Following a bill signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Congress voted to change the name in 1954 to recognize all those who served the nation.
On Tuesday morning, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, Calif. hosted hundreds for a Veterans Day ceremony, and John Highbush, executive director, quoted President Reagan during his opening remarks.
"Our nation itself is testimony of the love our veterans have had for it and us," he said, quoting the 40th president. "America is safe today because brave men and women have been ready to face freedom's fire at the front, and we thank God for them."
Rear Admiral Russell Penniman, a retired reserve deputy commander and chief of staff for the U.S. Pacific fleet, served as a naval aviator during his years in the U.S. Navy. Penniman addressed attendees and shared his memory of meeting President Reagan while as a young officer. He remembered the Reagan's great appreciation for the military.
"The president held those who served in uniform in high regard," Penniman said.
The former F-14 Tomcat pilot asked all those who had served during wartime to raise their hand as he acknowledged their time of service. As he called out each war - Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, Desert Storm, the Vietnam, Korea and World War II - the hands became fewer and lifted a bit slower, but the love of country was evident on each face.
"Thank you all for your service and your sacrifice," he said. "You and millions more just like you across this great nation are the reason we come together today."
The focus on Penniman's talk was on honoring the country's standing commitment to all veterans, especially those who return severely wounded - either physically or emotionally. He discussed the Veterans Village of San Diego - a five location organization that has served homeless military veterans since 1981. The only program of its kind in the U.S., it is nationally recognized and provides services to more than 2,000 veterans throughout the County of San Diego.
Penniman also took the opportunity to address the recent scandal involving the U.S. Department of Veteran's affairs and the care denied to ailing veterans. Referencing the more than 35 who passed away while their care was pushed back time and time again he said, "This is an absolute travesty that must be fixed and fixed now."
He exhorted Americans to use today as an opportunity to seek out veteran-specific organizations where they can invest their time, money and energy in caring for U.S. veterans.
"We've entrusted our government with the care of our veterans, and it has fallen below our expectations of what they deserve," he said. "Find a vets organization and get involved."
The country's first president, George Washington, also had a great appreciation for the commitment of those in the military, as well as a drive to respect and care for veterans.
"Nothing could be a more melancholy and distressing sight, than to behold those who have shed their blood or lost their limbs in the service of their Country, without a shelter, without a friend, and without the means of obtaining any of the necessities or comforts of Life," he said. "Compelled to beg their daily bread from door to door!"
To stay up to date on the challenges faced by returning veterans, or to research volunteer areas, visit the Veterans of Foreign Wars website at www.vfw.org.