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Veterans Day

Veterans Day

Veterans Day

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10 November 2017

Today we observe Veterans Day, which actually always falls on Nov. 11 and therefore doesn't actually occur until tomorrow. Our observation of it today is merely a time out from business as usual. A holiday.

USS Pampanito. The Balao-class submarine does not look the same in black and white.

As someone who never takes a vacation, we're very fond of our national holidays, never missing one. And we don't mind stopping a day early to honor those who have served in our armed forces to preserve our way of life.

There is a certain irony in that sentence.

We lived through the Vietnam War era when "our way of life" was much challenged by a disturbed chief executive. And we're hardly alone now in observing the same thing going on again.

Our way of life is threatened today more by those who enjoy it than our enemies.

But threats often call out the best in us. And in Ending DACA Will Hurt Immigrant Troops, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reminds us not just what this day is about but what we, as a nation, are about. He writes:

Being an American is more than just passing an exam about United States history and the Constitution. It is more than one's knowledge and beliefs. Being an American is also about a willingness to put oneself in harm's way to defend the country. It is about honor and duty. As we observe Veterans Day, we remember with reverence the extraordinary debt we owe to those who have served in uniform and sacrificed, even unto death, for their fellow Americans. This includes the more than 109,000 immigrants who, since Sept. 11, 2001, have become citizens while wearing the uniform of the United States military. They have been part of a rarefied group: the 1 percent of Americans -- native-born, naturalized and undocumented immigrants alike -- who constitute our military.

As Gates reminds us, those who have served in uniform include immigrants -- even undocumented ones.

Once upon a time (well, a hundred years ago), this nation was happy to confer citizenship on one particular immigrant we knew who had served in the military. Gates pleads for that honor to be extended now to the undocumented soldier as well:

All of those undocumented immigrants, through their willingness to shed blood to protect the rest of us, have earned the right to call themselves "American citizen." Let us honor them this Veterans Day. But let's also give them a pathway to citizenship. Our military will be the better for it. So will the country.

Military service was how Jasper Pasini, recently arrived from Prata Camportaccio, became an American.

Across the Pier. A warehouse door by the Pampanito honors Fisherman's Wharf immigrants.

After enlisting in the U.S. Army, he was immediately sent back to Italy to fight in World War I, where he was shot in combat and sent back to his new nation to recover.

A few years later he had made enough money in Wyoming's slate mines to send for his sweetheart. By marrying an American citizen, she became one too.

Two immigrants. Two Americans.

Their oldest daughter served as an Army nurse in Japan during World War II and later as an registered nurse provided crisis stabilization in the juvenile ward of her county hospital.

Their son became the editor of the most respected weekly newsmagazine in the insurance industry.

Their baby girl, who suffered kidney failure in her early twenties, blazed a trail for those who today enjoy either a transplant (she underwent several early attempts at UCSF) or the benefits of dialysis (she was the first woman in California to use home dialysis).

Not a bad deal.

Veterans Day is a day to salute all who served and serve in uniform. And among them, as Bob Gates reminds us, the immigrants who made this country more than it otherwise might have been.

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