Looking Back at Reagan’s Veterans Day Speech

November 05, 2019

It’s been nearly 35 years since President Reagan Veterans Day Speech became an iconic emblem of American patriotism. While much has changed in our country and around the world since the president delivered that address, his words still very much ring true today — and hold a wealth of lessons for today’s public servants, as well as members of the military and civilians, to take forward. Reagan, whose legacy includes a deep commitment to our armed forces, spoke the now-famous words during a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery honoring Veterans Day in 1985. The president used the occasion to pay tribute to the men and women who lost their lives fighting for our country, but also to tie their sacrifice to the work that still needed to be done. Both the victims of war and the reason they died, Reagan said, should be remembered by Americans — not just on Veterans Day, but year-round.

“There is a special sadness that accompanies the death of a serviceman, for we're never quite good enough to them — not really; we can't be, because what they gave us is beyond our powers to repay,” Reagan said. “And so, when a serviceman dies, it's a tear in the fabric, a break in the whole, and all we can do is remember.”

Each person who has died in battle for the United States, the president said, is a victim of a failed peace process — something which is often lost on many Americans. Our country losing citizens to war represents that we, as a whole, have forgotten many things: the principles on which the United States was founded, the fact that we’re stronger together and even that common sense will always prevail.

This aspect of the Reagan Veterans Day Speech alluded to the ongoing tensions at the time with the Soviet Union — but they have resounded through the years. In 2019, fears over nuclear weapons and increasing tensions with foreign powers continue to ramp up, leading many to question if we’ve taken Reagan’s words to heart. When the peace process breaks down, perhaps it reflects deeper erosion in the country — a failure to recognize the prevailing American principles, the unity that we all need and the necessity for practical problem-solving that puts America first.

This Veterans Day, listening to these echoes of the past from the Reagan Veterans Day Speech can be an insightful way for modern Americans to both pay tribute to military heroes and find the resolve to prevent any further lives lost.


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