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Remembering the past to understand the future

  • Published
  • By Col. Carl Jones
  • 90th Missile Wing vice commander
My wife once told me a story about her grandmother, Eleanor Teigen. Grandma Teigen was at a doctor's appointment, and the nurse who was checking her in noticed her birthday was Nov. 11. The nurse said, "Your birthday is on Veterans Day!" Grandma Teigen pointed out the year of her birthday was 1909, and she let the nurse know Veterans Day was on her birthday.

Every time I hear that story it reminds me that our nation often overlooks the reason our country has such a rich past is because of the generations of Americans who created it for us.

Nov. 11, 1918 is generally regarded as the end of "the war to end all wars." Even though the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June of 1919, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Armistice Day was officially marked in November of 1919 when President Wilson said, "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."

Armistice Day became a holiday in 1938, and the name was changed to Veterans Day in 1954 after more American blood and treasure were sacrificed to fight in World War II and the Korean War. In these three wars alone, more than one-and-a-half million Americans lost their lives, and their sacrifice shall never be forgotten.

During this time, the world also witnessed the normalization of airpower. Countries began to see the value of the airplane and incorporated these flying machines into their arsenals. Everyone looked for ways to bring devastation to their enemies faster and protect to their own forces.

As early as 1943, General Henry "Hap" Arnold noted, "Someday, not too distant, there can come streaking out of somewhere - we won't be able to hear it, it will come so fast - some kind of gadget with an explosive so powerful that one projectile will be able to wipe out completely this city of Washington."

Today, this nation holds 450 of these gadgets in silo, and from what I understand, we even have some on submarines.

Growing up, I often considered all my family had to be thankful for. As the son of West Indian immigrants, I knew my parents moved to the United States for all of the opportunities it had to offer. I also knew the men and women in the military were responsible for the freedoms we enjoyed. Consequently, I decided at a very young age I was going to serve in the United States Air Force so that the Jones family could give something back to this great nation. After college, I was blessed with a commission in the Air Force and an assignment as a missileer.

I have always tried to remember the men and women who wore our nation's uniform before me. When I do my final uniform check in the mirror before I leave the house, I think about the Airmen who started this Air Force in 1947. When times get tough I remember the pride felt in this country when the first Atlas missile became operational in 1959.

So, why are you here? Who inspired you to raise your right hand and swear an oath to the Constitution? Who inspired them? Take some time this month to tell your story to your fellow wingmen. Talk about why you're here. Talk about the "greatest generation that ever lived." We all have a reason for being here. Something called us all to serve our country and brought us together at this base, at this time. Understanding the reasons why will only bring us closer together and make us stronger. So, why are you here?