(This speech was given at the Fontana Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 11.)

I’m honored to be speaking with you today on such an important occasion. We’re here today to honor our service members and to remember the sacrifices you made and the courage it takes to defend honor, duty, and country.

I did not have the privilege to serve in the armed forces, but I know all too many friends and loves ones who did.

As you know, Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day, was designated as a day to celebrate the end of World War I. The First World War ended Nov. 11, 1918, and it was declared that it was the war to end all wars. The legislation that created Veterans Day was, and I quote, “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'.”

We’re here today to honor our local heroes, to remember their achievements, their courage and their dedication, and to say thank you for their sacrifices. Thinking of the heroes who join us here today and those who are with us in spirit, a civilian cannot help but feel in awe by the enormity of what we encounter. We stand in the midst of patriots and the family and friends of those who have nobly served.

You -- the service members we honor today -- came from all walks of life, but they shared several fundamental qualities. You possessed courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity -- all the qualities needed to serve a cause larger than yourself.

Many of you didn’t ask to leave your homes to fight on distant battlefields. Many of you did not even volunteer per se, but instead were drafted. You did not go to war because you enjoyed fighting or violence. Instead you answered the call to be part of something that was bigger than yourselves. You are ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways during extreme times in our history.

Throughout history, those of wealth and power have declared the wars, in order to acquire greater wealth, land and resources, but they dared not send their own children to fight those wars. Instead, it has been thousands of beautiful young men and women, like yourselves -- from impoverished and working class families, both white and of color -- who have consistently answered the call to duty, asking nothing for yourselves while risking everything.

Millions of Americans have fought and died on battlefields here and abroad with the understanding that they were defending freedom, justice, and peace. We honor your sacrifices on this day.

We must go beyond reserving our gratitude to a single day, however. We must come together and work toward creating and maintaining that ideal society which stands for true freedom and liberty for all. Where true democracy, peace, and justice for all reign supreme. This is a continuous struggle and we are not there yet. There are times in history when we get closer to these ideals of genuine humanity and other times when we drift away from them.

Today, people throughout the country will gather together to remember, to honor, and to pay gratitude to those who have served our county. Our gathering is just one small spark in the flame of pride that should be recognized today and every day. It’s not a lot, but it's one small way we can honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can live in freedom.

Your presence here today, and that of the people gathering all across this country, is a tribute to those lost troops and to their families. It is our way to say that we remember.

But today should also be a rallying cry to humbly remind you that you are still extremely important and that your services are still very much needed as we try to heal our community from the remnants of violence, hate, and ignorance. We need you today more than ever to continue to be those warriors of peace and walk with us as we take on a persistent past and present foe, which is poverty and injustice. The children of this community still need you!

The ongoing struggle against hunger, homelessness, and poverty is very real must be erased from our community. Too many veterans know of this reality all too well, as they constitute a large percentage of those neglected and abandoned by our society -- facing that very same poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

At Fontana Middle School, we have as our vision the commitment to end poverty, hunger, injustice, and racism in our community and beyond -- but we cannot do it alone.

We need you! We need proven warriors like yourselves, who have answered the call to serve once before, to please stand with us again -- in our effort to make this a better world for all children to live in.

Please know that we feel you, that we see you, that we honor you, and that we thank you for you service. Most of all, please know that we still need your courage and your commitment to service now more than ever. Future generations depend on it. God bless you and your families.

(Dr. Sergio Chavez is the principal at Fontana Middle School.)

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