Q&A: Veterans Day

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

Q: What is the historical significance of Nov. 11?

A: On the “11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month,” fighting ceased between the Allied nations and Germany during World War I. Back then, November 11, 1918 (Armistice Day) was regarded as the end of the war “to end all wars.” In the years to follow, President Woodrow Wilson and Congress deemed Nov. 11 as a day of commemoration to honor the heroes in uniform whose patriotism and sacrifice restored peace in the world. History shows the Nov. 11th declaration “to end all wars” did not last. In fact, it lasted little more than 20 years when World War II started in 1939.

After World War II, President Dwight Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day proclamation, calling upon Americans to“solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on the foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom.” Eisenhower urged Americans to carry the heroism of these brave patriots forward by“promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” Prior to serving as Commander-in-Chief, our 34th president served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, overseeing the most consequential military campaigns in World War II, including Operation Overlord, the amphibious assault on the beaches of Normandy during the early morning hours of June 6, 1944. That mission required U.S. Army Rangers – “the boys of Pointe du Hoc” – to scale the treacherous cliffs heavily fortified by German artillery. The uncommon bravery of these service members on D-Day launched the Allied Forces’ victorious effort to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.

From the heroes of the Greatest Generation to the men and women who have followed in their footsteps, from Southeast Asia to the Persian Gulf and conflicts around the world, Veterans Day gives Americans a solemn opportunity to reflect on the legacy of America’s sons and daughters who have served our country in uniform.

On Veterans Day and every day, Americans ought to ask ourselves what more we can do for veterans living in our communities and to honor and celebrate their service. A shrinking veteran population is cited as one of the reasons for recruitment struggles since the all-volunteer force began in 1973. Fewer people in younger generations are exposed to veterans as role models in daily life.

Q: What is the Veterans History Project?

A: More than 20 years ago, Congress recognized the importance of memorializing the personal stories of veterans so that future generations would understand the realities of war and appreciate how these American heroes put their lives on the line for our country and way of life. Managed by the Library of Congress, the Veterans History Project curates oral histories through firsthand interviews of U.S. military veterans from World War I to present day. Iowa has a rich history of military service. As Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator, I wanted to help ensure the stories of Iowa veterans are not lost to history. In 2018, my office launched an annual event to interview hometown heroes for the Veterans History Project. Held during the week of Veterans Day, my office hosts an opportunity for veterans to share their stories in a 30- to 60-minute sit-down interview. Contributions from local college students provide technical expertise and an opportunity to make connections across generations. So far, we’ve collected interviews from more than 70 veterans across the state, including at the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum in Johnston; the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown; Veterans Post in Waverly; 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City; and Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum in Waterloo. This year, my office will be joined by students from St. Ambrose University and Eastern Iowa Community College to interview veterans at the Rock Island Arsenal Museum. For the sixth year in a row, I’m honored to provide a platform for Iowa veterans, so that Americans can hear and learn about their experiences and to help ensure their stories of service and sacrifice are preserved for generations to come.