Each year, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) holds an essay contest for High School students on patriotic subjects.
It is a unique contest that encourages young people to explore and express themselves on such subjects but also gives them the opportunity to “win a share of the $2.2 million in educational scholarships and incentives awarded through the VFW’s Voice of Democracy audio-essay competition.”
Prizes and awards include a $30,000 scholarship for the national first-place winner, other national scholarships ranging from $1,000-$16,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the first-place winner from each (State) VFW Department.
The deadline this year was November 1.
If you have children, grandchildren or know of youngsters who like to write, be on the lookout next year for this amazing contest. Each year, nearly 40,000 high school students from across the country enter the contest.
This year the theme is “Why Veterans Are Important to our Nation’s History and Future.”
Because it is Veterans Day, this aspiring writer tried his hand at it but — from reading past essays* — I can assure you that it will not hold a candle to some of the essays submitted by our younger generation.
But I will share my thoughts anyway and will post this year’s VFW essay winner when his or her name is announced.
Veterans are important to our nation’s history because Veterans are our history
Simply put, Veterans made and molded America’s history.
They did so through their selflessness, with their courage, with their patriotism, with their love of God and Country, with their blood.
Without our earliest veterans — I am referring to the Revolutionary War — we would not have a nation, we would not have a history, we would not have a future.
Without our veterans who landed in Normandy, who fought in the Pacific, who raised the beautiful red white and blue on Iwo Jima, who fought in the trenches and in the skies in that War we call the Second World War, we might not have the America we know now, we certainly would not have what we call the Free World.
Without the more than 600,000 men and women who gave their lives in all our “Foreign Wars” and without the veterans from more recent wars who are still with us — some in good health, some not so well — we would have a future, yes, but a very dismal one.
But we can not talk about the future without also talking about the present at a time when our troops, our future veterans, are at this very moment still fighting in the hills of Afghanistan and risking their lives in the skies over Iraq and Syria — and, today, back on the ground in Iraq.
Our veterans are important, not only because they have fought in combat for us, but also because they have fought in other ways for others and for us.
They have been there for the victims of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, forest fires, typhoons and tsunamis here at home and in far-away lands, bringing rescue, relief and humanitarian aid to the thousands, perhaps millions, who would not have made it otherwise.
Today, our future veterans are dropping food, water and medicines from the skies over Iraq to save tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children from starvation or death.
They have already saved ten thousand or more of these unfortunate people from a certain death atop a mountain in Iraq.
Today, hundreds — eventually several thousand — of our future veterans are in a different but nevertheless lethal kind of harm’s way, forgoing combat gear and body armor and donning protective suits to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa by building clinics, training health workers, doing vital laboratory work.
These men and women in uniform today, fighting, sacrificing risking health and life, are the veterans of tomorrow.
They are inseparable and indistinguishable.
They are our past, our present and our future.
They are the hundreds of thousands of veterans resting in our national, state and local cemeteries.
They are the one million World War II veterans still with us today, but quietly leaving us by the hundreds each and every day.
They are the younger but equally brave men and women who served in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan and who are already an important part of our nation’s history and our future, for they are the heroes who are inspiring America’s youth to emulate their example.
Yes, veterans are very important to our nation’s future because how we view, appreciate and treat our returning veterans, how we receive them back into society, how we handle their physical and mental health needs, how we provide every opportunity for their continued educational and professional growth and advancement is what will make America’s future as venerable as our past.
Veterans, through their accomplishments and sacrifices, anchor us to America’s past and show the way to America’s future — that is why they are so important.
* Madison Haley, a senior at Mount Pulaski High School, Mount Pulaski, Ill.,was named the 2013-2014 Voice of Democracy 1st-place winner.
Read Madison’s speech here.
Lead photo: C.D. Studyvin, a World War II and Korean War veteran, salutes the U.S. flag during a Memorial Day ceremony at the El Paso Cemetery in Derby, Kan., May 26, 2014. U.S. Air Force file photo by Capt. Zach Anderson
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.