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Guest: On Veterans Day, honor the past and present

BY DREW HJELM - GUEST OPINION | NOVEMBER 11, 2009 7:20 AM

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While I was in the Army, I had the opportunity of being stationed in Germany for more than two years, and while I was there, I went traveling a bit. Weekend getaways to London, snowboarding in Garmisch, and a trip to Oktoberfest in Munich are among my favorite memories during my time there.

But it is other trips that are most relevant today, the 90th celebration of Veterans Day. Ninety years ago, on Nov. 11, 1919, Americans celebrated the first anniversary of the end of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I.

President Woodrow Wilson remarked: “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.”

All across America, we celebrated the victory of peace over the horrors of war. UI President Walter Jessup called for the creation of a place to honor Iowans who died in the conflict; today, we know it as the Iowa Memorial Union.

A few years ago, some friends and I got in a car and drove from Germany to Paris for a weekend. It was a fun six-hour drive. The pristine fields and meadows that exist there today are surely alien to how they must have looked during the battles of the Somme, Verdun, and Marne. Time seems to heal all wounds.

But even after the killing fields of World War I were sowed over, a much greater conflict led to even more destruction. Peace gave way to war once again. But even after the greater conflict we know as World War II, some were left in bondage.

After returning to Germany at the end of 2005 from a tour in Iraq, I went on another road trip, this time from our small base in Bavaria to the bustling city of Berlin. This wasn’t the first time I had been there, but it was the first time I really got to explore the city.

There are still scars in Berlin from conflicts past, but none is more eerie than the memorial to the Berlin Wall. This week also marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. There are bricks in the streets and sidewalks that mark the course of die Mauer. And a lone shack still stands where Checkpoint Charlie once stood, a symbol of the unsuccessful attempts to travel toward freedom and the two superpowers that stood in constant vigilance against one another for almost 50 years.

This week is indeed a powerful reminder of the triumph of mankind over war and slavery. It’s both an amazing coincidence and an excellent opportunity for us to give thanks to those who have given so much of their lives so that we may enjoy ours. Take the time this week to thank a veteran for her or his service, and remember those who are still serving somewhere overseas.

Drew Hjelm is president of the UI Veterans Association.


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