Sen. Justin Brown’s Legislative Column for Nov. 3, 2021

A Day to Honor Veterans

The humorist Will Rogers was once asked about those who, like him, had not worn the uniform of the United States armed forces, “We can’t all be heroes,” he said. “Someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.” Rogers attended military school in Missouri as a boy, but never served in the military. Even so, he understood the American people owed a debt of gratitude to veterans. If that was true in Rogers’ time, how much more does it apply today?

On Nov. 11, just as we do every year, America will honor all men and women who ever served in America’s military. Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, a federal holiday to recall the agreement that ended World War I. First observed in 1919, the holiday became Veterans Day following World War II, and its purpose was expanded to honor all past and present military members. A separate holiday, Memorial Day, honors America’s fallen heroes.

Over the years, more and more Americas have sat on the curb, while fewer men and women march in the veteran’s parade. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 18 million U.S. veterans alive today. That’s roughly 7 percent of the nation’s adult population. The number of Americans with prior military service has steadily declined, and continues to do so. As recently as 2020, there were roughly 26 million American veterans. That number is expected to drop to fewer than 13 million by 2040.

U.S. military manpower in the post-World War II-era peaked in 1968, when more than 3.5 million Americans served. That number had fallen to less than 1.5 million by the end of the 20th century, a level that has remained fairly constant despite intense military involvement in the Middle East during the post-9/11-era. While the number of Americans currently serving has fallen, prior generations of military veterans grow older and, sadly, pass on. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Gulf-era veterans – those who enlisted after 1990 – now outnumber surviving Vietnam-era vets. Ten years have passed since the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I died, and it’s becoming increasingly uncommon to encounter a World War II veteran. Those who served during the Korean Conflict are now esteemed elders of the veteran’s ranks.

As someone who never served in the military, I count myself among those who sit on the curb and cheer our veterans. I gladly do so, as I have great respect, admiration and appreciation for those who serve in uniform. Elected to represent Missouri’s 16th Senatorial District – home to our state’s largest military facility – I feel a particular obligation to keep our veterans in mind. I can’t begin to fully appreciate all the sacrifices veterans and their families have made for our nation, but I am determined to ensure our state government is responsive to their needs.

With fewer Americans shouldering more of the burden of defending our nation, I believe the rest of us owe an even greater debt of gratitude. I hope everyone will join me in thanking our veterans. Of course, we should be thankful every day, but if we need an additional reason, Veterans Day should suffice. To all who ever wore the uniform of America’s armed forces with honor, I say thank you.

It’s my honor to serve as your senator for the 16th District. If you have questions or need any assistance, please call my office at 573-751-5713 or log onto my webpage at for more information.