LITTLE ROCK - November is a month particularly focused on gratitude. Whether giving thanks for our families, friends, veterans or God’s providence, we reflect on the people and gifts that enrich our lives. This November has revealed some especially poignant reminders of the achievements and sacrifices of our fellow Arkansans and other Americans.
Shortly before Veterans Day, officials of the French government came to the State Capitol in Little Rock to present six Arkansans with the Legion of Honor medal, established by Napoleon in 1802. This is France’s highest decoration, presented in this case to American soldiers who assisted in liberating the French from Nazi control during World War II. Even though 69 years have now passed since D-Day, four honorees were able to receive their awards in person, with proud family and friends present to witness the ceremony. The two remaining awards were given posthumously to soldiers’ families.
During the ceremony, I read aloud the wartime achievements and decorations of each veteran as they received their medals. Afterward, the daughter of one the honorees asked for a copy of the notes I had read while honoring her father. Throughout her life, her father had been reluctant to talk about his wartime experiences in Europe. The details recited at the ceremony were the most specific she had ever heard.
This, of course, is not a phenomenon limited to World War II veterans. Survivors of all armed conflicts may be hesitant to share recollections from the battlefield, having experienced events and circumstances few of us can even imagine. This, too, is something to remember as we see and thank the veterans we know during this holiday season. Some may be carrying the weight of events and internal scars that cannot be seen.
A few days ago at the White House, 16 Americans were presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor. Among the 16 was our own Bill Clinton, but there were also artists, scientists, journalists, entertainers and athletes.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was created in 1963 by an executive order from President John F. Kennedy. Among the opportunities lost by Kennedy’s assassination 50 years ago this week was his chance to present the first of these medals, which he created. Still, the tradition has endured for five decades. The award recognizes the fact that historic contributions to our nation are made by Americans in all aspects of our society. The Medal is another way for us to show our appreciation to those whose deeds have made that society better.
As we reunite and gather for Thanksgiving, we can give thanks not only for the measurable blessings your loved ones have contributed to your life, but also for those that may not be so evident. Whether it is a family member, a veteran, or a professional we may never meet, sometimes the greatest gifts are those we will never see or realize. But those gifts are still ours to benefit from and to pass on to those who come after us. This is the spirit of Thanksgiving.