Editor's Note: A number of spectators joined Veterans on Veterans Day to commemorate the day this past Sunday. What follows are the remarks shared by Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker.
I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Bethel veteran's organizations who are always here, year after year to hold our annual ceremony. Thank you to the Bethel Patriotic Society, to the American Legion and to the Veterans of Foreign Wars for being here to day to lead this memorial.
Since the founding of our nation in 1776, millions of American patriots have served in the United States military. Historians are unsure of the exact number, but a conservative estimate pegged the number of at least 101.2 million. Of those, about 20% experienced combat operations. But even if a veteran did not fight in actual combat, we still owe a debt of gratitude to the 800 million who provided critical support and made it possible for our combat troops to succeed. No marine, airman, soldier or sailor can be successful without the world's best team backing them up. So today, we say "thank you" to all who served.
But we must also understand how our military has changed over the years. As recently as 1980, about 18% of our total US population had served or was actively serving in a branch of our armed forces. Today that number is no higher than 7%, for obvious reasons. Technology has produced new efficiencies, allowing more to be accomplished with fewer people. We no longer have a civilian draft. Instead we have a highly trained, all volunteer military.
With so few Americans serving in their armed forces, we must not take their service for granted, nor allow them to become invisible. The fact that fewer serve today does not diminish the sacrifices made to keep our nation safe.
We must ensure that our nation's veterans are honored, and have the services the support they need to succeed when they return. Just a week ago we had an election, and new leaders will soon assume their duties in Hartford and Washington. We must prevail on them to ensure that our veterans have the best health care, that no veteran is allowed to be homeless, nor without a job.
That is the best possible way to honor their service.
Photo by Alicia Priore – The Color Guard at Bethel's Veterans Day Ceremony at the Municipal Center, with Bethel Selectmen Paul Szatkowski, Richard Straiton and First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker.