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Music and the Spoken Word: In tribute to our veterans

POSTED: November 11, 2017 10:30 p.m.
Deseret Connect/

On Veterans Day, we give thanks to everyone who has ever donned a uniform of the United States military.

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Editor's note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast.

On Veterans Day, we give thanks to everyone who has ever donned a uniform of the United States military. This national holiday dates to the close of World War I and now honors generations of veterans who have fought in many battles in many lands. No matter the conflict, our military men and women of different backgrounds, races and creeds have long represented the American character at its best: selflessness, honesty, commitment, grit, resilience and patriotism.

There are so many inspiring stories that could be told of these valiant veterans. One story that captures their spirit of sacrifice comes from John Whitehead. In 1941, John was a student working in the library at Haverford College when he heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He knew immediately that his “life would never be the same." (John's story is shared in "The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections" by Tom Brokaw, published in 1999).

John became a Navy supply officer and was assigned to command five landing craft during the invasion of the Normandy beaches on D-Day — a pivotal moment of the war. John and his infantrymen, whom Brokaw writes that John called “the real heroes,” made two trips across the channel from Portsmouth, England. And after the second, John noted, “What had looked like such a disaster only a few hours earlier was beginning to look like it had a chance" (see Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections,").

As the men scrambled ashore, John paused and “took a few deep breaths and felt suddenly elated, proud to be having a tiny part in what was maybe the biggest battle of all history.” Yes, he was “soaked to the skin, seasick, dead tired, cold, (and) still scared,” but as he would later declare, “I would not have wanted to be anywhere else" (according to "The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections").

What was it that made John Whitehead feel elated in such miserable, exhausting, dangerous conditions? It was the cause for which he was fighting. To honor the sacrifices of people like John, we build memorials, hold parades and give awards. But such things cannot fully do justice to their service or repay our debt. Maybe the best way to honor our veterans is to stay true to the cause that inspired them — the cause of justice, truth and freedom.
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