Originally a day set aside to commemorate the end of the misnamed “war to end all wars,” Nov. 11 has variously been called Armistice Day, Remembrance Day and, for many decades now, Veterans Day. Unlike Memorial Day, which honors specifically those who died in the service of their country, Veterans Day is meant to honor all those who’ve served honorably.

Today marks 95 years since Congress directed the president to proclaim the day as such, and 83 years since it became a national holiday. That the act making it so, in 1938, specified it as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace” just as Nazi Germany was becoming a threat that would necessitate a war far surpassing World War I, probably says something about the odds of achieving that lofty goal. There seems to always be a conflict brewing or fully involved somewhere. Since the proclamation of Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, the United States has been directly in conflict in at least seven wars or invasions and has taken part in other nations’ conflicts on a fairly continuous basis.

Perhaps it made sense, then, that the country moved on from a day set aside to commemorate the end of war, which hasn’t yet become reality, and instead took to honoring those who put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us. In 1954, Congress changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.

So while the original intent was to celebrate peace, the message shifted through the years to honoring those who served in World War I, then to all those who’ve served in our military. Each has been a worthwhile goal. But it’s worth pondering how well our nation has fared in supporting them. As far as World War I veterans, we’d say they were well thought of in their time — the last, Cpl. Frank Buckles, died in 2011 at 110.

Veterans of subsequent conflicts have faced more varied treatment. World War II veterans have been dubbed the Greatest Generation and were celebrated upon their return to civilian life. But many Vietnam veterans were shunned or even cast as criminals for the publicized actions of a minority of their ranks. And some U.S. soldiers became the unwitting test subjects for biological and psychological weapons testing by their own government.

Following 9/11, members of the military became, along with first responders, viewed as heroic and self-sacrificing, to be thanked for their service. As the nation entered into wars with Afghanistan, then Iraq — in addition to other, smaller, campaigns around the globe — an unfamiliar, though not new, dynamic resurfaced. Bodies of young men — and this time, women — began arriving back in the U.S. in coffins. It had been 30 years since planeloads of our war dead had returned, driving home the reality of war: It inexorably chews through those who fight it.

The war in Iraq lasted until 2011, then reignited when the Islamic State took control of the region, lasting another five years. The Afghanistan conflict was even more of a quagmire. The question became, then: Is it worth it? What were we fighting for? Saddam Hussein was long dead. Osama bin Laden, too. Yet Americans continued to be wounded or killed in both wars, with no apparent way out.

This Veterans Day holds particular poignancy, as earlier this year, President Biden withdrew all but a small contingent of U.S. military from Afghanistan, after 20 years. It certainly didn’t go smoothly, and probably never could, but it marks a milestone nonetheless. By officially withdrawing, lives of American soldiers will be saved, limbs and senses preserved. That’s a more tangible way of honoring those who serve than most we can come up with.

We don’t really “celebrate” Veterans Day, as an unshakable vein of loss and pain runs through its foundation. War is not to be glorified, but those who serve are, overwhelmingly, deserving of our respect and gratitude. And so we honor them. Would that their sacrifice were not necessary.

Among the Veterans Day observances of note today is that being held at the Cathedral of the Pines.

The Cathedral is both a faith organization and a site dedicated to those who’ve served the country. In fact, it was founded in honor of Sanderson “Sandy” Sloane, who served as a B-17 pilot in World War II. Sloane was shot down in February 1944 and lost his life. He had planned to come home and build a home on the site of the cathedral, which was owned by his family.

This year, the Cathedral has been celebrating its 75th anniversary. According to its history, the location was originally intended, by Sloane’s parents, to host an outdoor chapel. Set on a 5-acre site on Hale Hill Road in Rindge that features a stunning view of Mount Monadnock and beyond, the site hosts a museum featuring artifacts from both world wars. It has long served as a support organization for veterans groups and myriad faiths, but it also hosts events presented by other groups.

The view alone is well worth the trip, but those interested are advised to take advantage soon. Winter is coming.

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