Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt of the address that keynote speaker Hunter Hill delivered during the city of Sandy Springs’ eighth annual Veterans Day Tribute at the Concourse Center on Nov. 10.
Many of you know Veterans Day was first “Armistice Day,” the day which effectively ended hostilities between the Allies and Germany during World War I. It was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month; 11 o’clock in the morning, on Nov. 11, 1918. The name change to Veterans Day took place in 1954 with President Eisenhower so that our nation could honor veterans from all conflicts on the same day.
Ninety-nine years later, Nov. 11, 2017, Americans across the country commemorate this day to say “thank you” to all who have served, and to also learn how best we can honor past and present sacrifices.
We live in a trying time for our nation — one that presents new and dangerous challenges for our leaders, both at home and abroad. And these challenges are especially real for our law enforcement here at home as well as our current military overseas. They both are called to operate in incredibly uncertain environments where they don’t know which day may be their last.
Current events should also remind us that veterans are incredible assets to our communities, state and nation.
I served three combat tours in the Army, and our motto is, “This We’ll Defend.” This represents two notions. First, America is special and worth defending; and second, that our service men and women have the willingness to fight. It is my belief that whatever challenges our nation, state and communities face can be overcome if we learn from the values our exceptional armed forces instill in America’s young men and women.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, it didn’t matter what political party the man to my left and my right supported. When you’re in the foxhole, you want someone you can trust to carry out the mission — you’re a unit trained to accomplish a goal. You all know what you’re fighting for and what you’re fighting to defend. Regardless of the differences in each unit, platoon or company, we had to work together as a team. I believe we have lost that unifying theme across our society. We’re all Americans. We all stand for the same foundational values that made this country great.
There has to be a unity of purpose on the part of the American people and our government, just like there is in each Army unit — regardless of race, politics or culture. Because America is not land or treasure. America is an idea, an idea that liberty and justice should be available to all people and that all citizens should be entrusted to govern themselves. Anyone should be free to worship as they choose, they should have the political freedom to elect their own leaders, and also have the choice in how they pursue their own happiness. These are things veterans believe are worth the sacrifice — things worth fighting to protect.
Often on days like Veterans Day, we may see our simple thanks to those who have served as insufficient. How do we do more? I believe we can do the following:
Read our founding documents and familiarize ourselves with what each veteran has sacrificed to protect. When our servicemen and women enlist, they swear an oath to our Constitution — to support and defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. The America they represent on the battlefield are the ideas enshrined in the Constitution and our other founding documents. I believe thanks to our veterans must begin with a recognition and understanding of the unique liberties you and I are afforded as Americans and then celebrating those freedoms.
Engage in the public square. Our founders believed an informed electorate was key to the survival of our republic. Then, equipped with that knowledge, we must seek out individuals or organizations that represent our values and beliefs and get involved. Whether in your local church, community or personal network, engage by making the change you want to see in your local, state and national governments.
Also, vote. Exercising our right to vote is the basic necessity of any healthy republic. Too many Americans throw up their hands and resign to the outcome of each election. I fear that a people unwilling to exercise their most basic freedoms as Americans may not enjoy those rights in the future.
Finally, if you are a business owner, hire a veteran. Veterans have incredible value to offer any business or organization, and investing in our nation’s finest is an outstanding way to show our gratitude for their service and sacrifice.
Our blessings as a nation are many. One of the greatest is our selfless men and women who, past or present, serve our nation in uniform. I hope that we all continue to say “thank you” and mean it. But I also hope that we can learn from their values and use their incredible example to better ourselves here at home.
May God bless each of you, our veterans, and our country.
Hunter Hill served three tours of combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. Army as an Airborne Ranger, two of which were with the 101st Airborne Division. He served in the state Senate for Buckhead and Sandy Springs’ District 6 from 2013 to 2017 and is a Republican candidate for governor.