SALT LAKE CITY — The unveiling of a Fallen Warrior memorial at Fort Douglas Thursday morning was a Veterans Day kickoff honoring soldiers and their families.
The event also gave Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and retired Maj. Gen. Peter S. Cooke a forum to talk about differences in the way Americans today interact with the military, now in the 10th year of America's longest war, compared to the generation that fought in this country's biggest war, World War II.
The memorial is dedicated to fallen soldiers from the 96th Infantry Division and the Army Reserve components at historic Fort Douglas. It features a bronze statue that has the trademark tribute to a fallen warrior: a helmet perched on a down-turned rifle standing behind a pair of combat boots.
Hatch lost his only brother in World War II. "From my brother's sacrifice and the sacrifice of the fallen soldiers of the 96th, we must reflect on the legacy they have left us. We are free," Utah's senior senator said.
During World War II, 16 million troops were mobilized from a U.S. population of 120 million. Today, fewer than 2 million service members have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan from a population of more than 310 million — "In our longest war," Cooke said.
"Many Americans today are insulated from the people we expect to die on our behalf," Cooke said.
Veterans' collective voice among a civilian population is growing more faint as well, he said. "We make this silence harder to break when our population becomes insulated from the real cost of war, including deaths, long deployments, post-traumatic stress and the frustration of the Veterans Affairs bureaucracy and unemployment."
The families of several fallen soldiers attended Thursday's unveiling, including Mary Stone and her sons, Nate and Cameron. Mary's husband, Douglas, was killed in Iraq three and a half years ago. "Veterans Day is different for us than it used to be. My husband loved his country, and it's a privilege to be here and honor him," she said.
She said the new memorial, and others like it, "gives us a place to come and reflect and think of him and just remember everybody that has fought and died."
Cooke suggested much of America forgets the country is at war. Stone said she sees that in the world around her. "You're at the store, and you think 'they don't even know what's going on. They don't know what we've gone through.' But every day is a struggle for us."
World War II veteran Glenn Stewart said memorials are of great significance to veterans who survived their wartime ordeals. "It reminds us that we are remembered. It reminds us that we did a task that needed to be done, and we did it because it was our country."
Other Veterans Day events were held throughout the state:
A 30-foot Veterans Tribute Tower was dedicated at the George E. Wahlen Veterans Home in Ogden during a ceremony scheduled to include Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Melba Wahlen, the widow of Medal of Honor recipient George Wahlen.
The University of Utah honored 11 Utah veterans at its 13th annual Veterans Day Commemoration, which included a full-dress military ceremony with a university ROTC honor guard and 21-gun salute.
The Utah National Guard hosted its 55th annual Veterans Day concert Thursday at the University of Utah's Jon M. Huntsman Center.
Students and teachers at Kaysville Junior High honored their former vice principal of 13 years, Senior Master Sgt. Richard Miller, at an assembly to thank him for his service in Iraq with the Utah Air National Guard. Miller has spent 22 years in the Air National Guard, and this deployment was his fourth.