Service and Sacrifice by America’s Veterans Benefit Today’s Youth

By Jacob Step

   There is an ancient tree in my front yard.  Its evergreen boughs reach skyward and its trunk bears the scars of conflicts with wind, rain, snow and occasionally one of my siblings learning to drive.  In spring and summer it provides shade and beauty.  In the cold of our winters it blocks the wind and re-shapes the drifts of snow that seek to bury our porch and doorway.  As a child I climbed it and rested in its branches.  It stands silently season after season and watches the changes in the land, the town and in each member of my family as we age and grow.  It asks for nothing, but is always present, always on guard.  It keeps us safe and brings to light memories of summers past and family time spent in its shade.

   America’s veterans have and continue to serve in the same capacity as that tree.  They anchor us to our past with roots tracing back to the founding fathers and the American Revolution.  They quietly stand guard, shielding us from the forces that would hurt or change our landscape.  They change with the season and with the need of the people under their protection, in order to maintain a solid footing and base.  They are strong, resilient, and provide safety for all who seek it.  They stand ready, to come between us and harm, and to give of themselves if necessary as a shield to see that we are able to live in freedom.

   John Fitzgerald Kennedy once remarked that “as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest form of appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”  What Veterans seek is not empty thanks, but knowing that the next generation has understood that they do not stand alone and that they stand on the efforts of all those who have come before.  They ask only that we see, feel and commit to the words, “We the People,” and translate that into our daily lives.  Even those no longer in uniform continue to serve and to demonstrate to my generation the power of people who see America as a birthright and as a duty of love.  In my small town alone, the presence and service of veterans is everywhere.  Our streets are lined with American flags, proudly announcing the presence of freedom.  Our schools are blessed by the Veterans’ organizations continual support of our sports, music, public speaking, civic projects, and scholarship programs.  Our groomed cemeteries are lined with graves marked by American flags.  Not only did these veterans give us the right to use our voice and our freedom of expression, they then hold competitions like this one to support us as we develop our views and ideas.

   My family has a long history of service in America’s military and as a high school junior I have begun exploring avenues for my own service.  It is my way of continuing the roots given to me by my grandfather and father, who served in three different conflicts.  As George Washington told the American public in his first annual address as president in 1790, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means for preserving peace.”  While the military path is not for everyone, commitment and service can be.  One look around brings you in contact with people in need and people to whom you can commit time and talents.

   While we are all caught up in the latest presidential election and which candidate supports which position, it is important that we stop and pay tribute to the most important legacy Veterans have provided for us. On Election Day, power will change hands for the 44th time in American history, decided upon by the majority vote of nearly 300 million people, who voted of their own free will.  Which man will occupy that position is yet to be decided, but the process is the greatest gift we can receive.   While we debate, discuss and immerse ourselves in the politics of America, the enlisted men and women of America will continue to do as they have always done, which is to silently guard all of us and our liberties, and watch with pride as a new leader takes control and the torch passes yet again from one generation to the next.

   A tree measures its growth in rings and you have to cut into the heart of the tree to bear witness to its growth and its struggles.  Americans have to take to heart the power of our freedoms, granted us by the sacrifices and service of our veterans.  Americans have to bear witness and like the tree, root ourselves deep in the past with our eyes firmly on the future, the next generation of Americans and what kind of world we hand off to them.   

   Editors Note-Jacob Step is a VUHS student and this essay won a recent Voice of Democracy competition sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Jaob wrote the essay and earned his award before the Nove 4th Presidential Election. The Voice congratulates Jacob.


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