This Saturday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day.

Growing up, my family made a point of attending the Bakersfield Veterans Parade. Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents would often join us. In junior high and high school, I participated in the pageantry — one student in the many marching bands that fill the streets of Bakersfield with choruses of patriotic hymns and Sousa marches.

The history of Veterans Day goes back to 1919. One year after the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the inaugural commemoration of Armistice Day, to “be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory” in the “war to end all wars.”

Congress passed a resolution in 1926 calling for the people of the United States to “observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.” In 1938, Armistice Day became a legal holiday.

It wasn’t until 1954 that Armistice Day became known as Veterans Day. After the massive mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in World War II and the Korean War, Congress established Nov. 11 as a day to honor all American veterans.

Veterans are the heroes of our nation, the supporters and defenders of the Constitution of the United States. And whether they served during times of war or peace, veterans are the guardians of democracy who willingly offer both their time and their lives for their country.

Seven out of every 100 Americans have served in the military at some point in their lives, including about 46,000 Kern County residents. We don’t have to look far to encounter the veterans in our lives.

My great-grandfather served during World War II. I remember hearing stories from his time in the 753rd Tank Battalion.

One of my oldest friends, Sam Van Kopp, was seriously wounded while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2012. Two members of his platoon lost their lives that day. Others were injured. Another classmate, Brett Land, died under insurgent attack in Afghanistan in 2010.

Now is as important a time as ever to show veterans the appreciation they deserve.

Every day, we lose approximately 362 World War II veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that only 558,000 Americans who served in World War II are still alive.

Veterans who return from combat often experience difficulty transitioning back to civilian life. They are much more likely than civilians to experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

About 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD. Twelve percent of Gulf War veterans and 11 percent to 20 percent of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans will have PTSD in any given year. Tragically, 20 veterans die from suicide each day.

Fortunately, we live in a county committed to honoring and supporting our veterans.

Our congressman, Kevin McCarthy, has worked tirelessly to improve veterans affairs. Earlier this year, he co-sponsored HR 3218, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017. The Forever GI Bill, as it’s known, became law on Aug. 16.

The Kern County Veterans Services Department joined with Chevron to develop the Kern Patriot Partnership. The program connects veterans with local employers who pledge to give them a first look when they are preparing to hire. About 180 veterans have been hired by the more than 75 businesses that participate in the program.

Wendy Porter, the granddaughter of two WWII Veterans and daughter of a Vietnam veteran, founded the Kern County Wounded Heroes Fund to support veterans and their families affected by the war on terror. They provide them with assistance and appreciation for a healthy return to civilian life. Just a few weeks ago, Wounded Heroes Fund broke ground on a new facility that will help them even better serve our veterans.

At Honor Flight Kern County, Lili Marsh and her team of guardians shuttle veterans from WWII, Vietnam and Korea to Washington, D.C., to experience our nation’s capital and see the monuments built to their service. The trips are provided at no cost to the veterans. As it says on their website, “You find ‘em, we’ll fly ‘em!”

As this Veterans Day approaches, let’s go out of our ways to celebrate and honor our veterans.

Write a check to the Wounded Heroes Fund or Honor Flight.

Show up at the next Honor Flight homecoming (Trust me – there’s nothing like it).

Head downtown this Saturday and join the festivity at the annual Veterans Day Parade.

As President George Washington said, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."

If you are a veteran, thank you for your service.

Thank you for your patriotism. Your love of country. Your service for the common good.

We are a nation forever indebted to your sacrifice.

For more information on the Wounded Heroes Fund, visit www.thewoundedheroesfund.org.

For more information on Honor Flight Kern County, visit www.honorflightkerncounty.org.

For more information about the Bakersfield Veterans Day Parade, visit www.facebook.com/post26bakersfieldca/.

Contributing columnist Justin Salters writes weekly on politics, culture and civic engagement; the views expressed are his own. Reach him at Facebook.com/thatjustinsalters, Twitter @justinsalters or justin@justinsalters.com.

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