It was the 11th hour of the 11th month of the 11th day of 1918 when Germany signed the Armistice ending World War I. In 1954, Congress re-named "Armistice Day" "Veteran's Day," expanding the holiday to honor all U.S. military veterans. Today, nearly a century since the end of the first Great War, we continue to pause for this November holiday to remember the sacrifices made by our troops around the globe.
The NFL has traded in its October Breast Cancer-Awareness-Pink for ribbons of military camouflage, another effort by the nation's most popular professional sport to give back.
Called the "Salute to Service" weekend, football teams from sea to shining sea welcomed active and retired members of the armed forces into their stadiums for touching pre-game ceremonies, impressive military fly-overs, and humongous unfurled flags waving over the gridiron. Tailgates included Humvees for fans to explore far from the perils of the battleground.
Amidst the business of warming up for games, NFL players, coaches and officials took time out to shake the hands of young men and women who recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, and participated in moments of silence for those who did not come back. In some stadiums, fans witnessed tearful surprise reunions between military personnel and their families.
Through sports, we revel in competition, rivalries, and a decidedly us-versus-them mentality. We describe our heroes wearing uniforms of black and gold or green and silver. They ride to work in Escalades and Cadillac's and take home million-dollar paychecks.
Veteran's Day reminds us of our country's true heroes, those whose uniforms are not for show, and whose paychecks can't possibly measure the sacrifices they make.
Throughout the league, fans were reminded of NFL great Pat Tillman who left football at the height of his career after 9/11 to enlist in the U.S. Army. He was killed in action serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan in 2004. The Foundation that bears his name offers scholarships to veterans, helping them to take leadership qualities learned in the military into their civilian communities.
This weekend the NFL provided a national reminder to all generations that Veterans Day is about much more than a school or bank holiday. For every member of the armed forces who serves our country at home or abroad, there is a family praying for their safe return and making their own daily sacrifices. While thousands of military members were honored during football games over the last few days, many more are taking painful steps in rehabilitation hospitals trying to regain a semblance of the life they had before encountering an enemy's roadside bomb or other hazard of war. Others return with scars that don't show, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
Throughout the Salute to Service weekend, the NFL pledged to give $100 to the Pat Tillman Foundation, the USO and the Wounded Warrior Project for every point scored. The donations total almost $300,000. But perhaps as important is the NFL's commitment to encourage their teams, their fans, and the entire country to join in five significant words:
"Thank you for your service."
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.