How should veterans be honored?

Since Nov. 11, 1919, the United States has designated this day as an appropriate one to honor our veterans. Originally called Armistice Day, the holiday marked the day that the Germans signed an Armistice, and the World War I hostilities came to an end. The Armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

Eighty years later (now called Veterans Day, to celebrate all veterans, not just ones from World War I) we're still celebrating our veterans, a well-deserved and indispensable tribute. (Memorial Day in May celebrates those who have died while serving our country.)

Area towns celebrate the day in different ways. Fairfield has traditionally closed town government that day (reflected in paperwork going back only as far back as town's contractual records exist, 1974, but anecdotally as far back as anyone can remember), but the schools are not always closed. Students have attended school on Veterans Day for three of the last five years. They are not in school today, however.

Fairfield had Nov. 11 off until 2005--06, and had school that day in the two years that followed. Following intense reaction from veterans and other groups in town, the school district went back to having the day off in the 2008--09 school year.

In Westport, the town departments are closed, with the notable exception of its annual Veterans Day services at Town Hall. The schools, however, do not close down for the day anymore. The decision to have Nov. 11 as a school day was made for the 1998--99 school year. Students also stayed in school during the next school year, but in 2000--01, students got a day off. Since then, starting with the 2001--02 school year, Veterans Day has not been a school holiday.

The school districts in both towns have had to deal with both sides of this controversial this issue in recent years. Veterans have pushed for the day off as a matter of respect and reverence, while the schools have justified the compulsory day saying that they provide Veterans Day programs in the schools that day.

Perhaps this is a debate without an easy answer. Whether veterans should be honored should never be in question, but should we reconsider the way in which we honor veterans? How many Fairfield children use their time off to think about veterans? Does the educational programming in Westport have more of an impact on students than if the students had the day off?

Our veterans are responsible for protecting our lives and protecting our way of life. These are men and women who have sacrificed every aspect of their own lives for all of us -- millions of people they've never met and will never meet.

It's not easy being a veteran of any age. Each generation has had its own difficulties overseas. Each generation of veterans has its own difficulties coming home and adjusting to life. There are veterans today living with painful injuries and painful memories of World War II. There are also veterans just barely old enough to vote who already share those same pains.

Simply put, regardless of age or tour of duty, veterans have earned our respect. Shouldn't we defer to them when making the decision about how to honor them?

We don't discount that the school's educational programming has been effective. By all accounts it has. However, perhaps Fairfield's school district has the solution. While its students are off today, many of the town's schools had veterans and active military personnel come in to the schools on Monday and Tuesday to talk about who they are and what they do. Then the students can use today to think about what they learned, which is what we hope they'll use it for. Even if they don't, we know that they got a glimpse of some real life heroes this week.

We commend both towns' commitment to celebrating veterans on their designated day each year. The day should provide an opportunity for as many people as possible to honor these esteemed members of our communities. Even if you are unable to get to Fairfield's ceremony (11 a.m. at Old Town Hall/Town Green), please remember to thank a veteran today.