Veterans: The Security of the American Birthright
by Derrick G. Jeter
One of the few regrets in my life is that I never served my country in uniform. Perhaps it is this very disappointment that causes me to be so grateful to those who have and do wear the uniform. I do not take for granted those who put on the white, olive drab, and blue in the service of their country. Standing guard in dangerous and lonely places—often unknown and unnamed by Americans who enjoy the freedom ensured by that soldier, sailor, or airman—is a task worthy of our deepest gratitude.
Abraham Lincoln, though serving in a local militia, was another man who never worn the uniform of his country. But he understood the sacrifice and bravery of those who did, and he didn’t forget to express his appreciation. In the summer of 1864, as the bloodletting of the American Civil War continued, Lincoln addressed a group of soldiers—the 166th Ohio Regiment.
I suppose you are going home to see your families and friends. For the service you have done in this great struggle in which we are engaged I present you sincere thanks for myself and the country. I almost always feel inclined, when I happen to say anything to soldiers, to impress upon them in a few brief remarks the importance of success in this contest. It is not merely for to-day, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children’s children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives. I beg you to remember this, not merely for my sake, but for yours. I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House. I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father’s child has. It is in order that each one of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence: that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained, that we may not lose our birthright—not only for one, but for two or three years. The nation is worth fighting for, to secure such an inestimable jewel.
The birthright of American freedom was won by men who wore the uniform; it was secured in the past and remains secure today by men and women who wear the uniform. Could it be better said than “The nation is worth fighting for, to secure such an inestimable jewel”? I think not. So, on this Veteran’s Day, to all who have worn or now wear the uniform of the United States of America, thank you!
Abraham Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, ed. Roy P. Basler (New York: Da Capo Press, 1946 reprint), 756–757.