Veterans Day is an interesting day. Formed with all the right intentions, I can’t help but think it is also a very conflicting day for anyone who has served and has suffered loss, pain, or anger due to a multitude of circumstances. While yes, the free meals and day of discounts are nice - are they really acts of gratitude - or are they just tax-deductable contributions for large businesses, spotlighting the sympathetic, pull-at-your-heartstrings advertisements? Usually an idealist, I hate to sound so cynical.
With these thoughts circling in my head, I decided to reach out to various veterans. Some were old friends. Some were wounded veterans that belong to an amazing organization that I am proud to be a part of, Shepherds for Lost Sheep. (http://www.shepherdsforlostsheepinc.org/) I asked them how they personally felt about Veterans Day. Did they feel honored, or did it conjure up other feelings that are often too impolite to mention? Unintentionally, their responses moved me.
“No matter how screwed up I am, I’m proud, honored, and would do it all again (Jun ’87-Dec ’11)” ~Michael
“I don’t mind it… it is a pretty solid way to honor people who generally speaking don’t ask for much. I however do not take part in any of the free stuff.” ~Erik
“I don’t know if I’d say honored, but it’s always nice to be thanked and recognized.” ~April
“I do believe in the power of having a good life, and that people need a day off to relax and/or party sometimes, so if you need an excuse for it, well then, call it Veterans Day if you like. Just don’t forget on November 12th that many of those veterans you “honored” still live in the streets. [Many also] are getting over the stress of last night’s fireworks. (Here in xx the fireworks are practically launched over the VA Hospital).” ~Deena
“[After much internal debate] I've decided to go to the [Veterans Day] ceremony. My kids want me there and sometimes it isn't always about me. It's about them. Besides...Ella will be in hog heaven with all these kids petting her.” ~Zach
“Personally, I value Memorial Day more than Veteran's day. Since I've gotten out, I feel extremely uncomfortable when I am thanked and such. Why thank me? I volunteered. I knew what I was getting into. No reason to thank me. Show love and honor the moms and dads who lost their sons and daughters, the children who lost a mom, a dad. The brother who lost a brother, etc. I just wanna lead a quiet life... The real heroes never made it home. I’m just lucky. That's my pov. It rubs people the wrong way but well, it is my view and mine alone.” ~Andy
“I am honored that there is a day set aside for our veterans when everyone else can honor veterans - personally (most of y'all know how I feel) everyday is Veterans Day to me and I will keep moving forward helping my Brothers and Sisters so long as I draw breath. I am also disgusted in this day and age of national coffee, chocolate, garlic, onion, bagel, and every other day they can dream up to make a quick $. Yet no matter how broken I am, if I had 10,000 lives, I would live them all for my country. I am also with Andy, Memorial Day means a lot more to me. It's the day I honor those who didn't come home, who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.” ~Tim
And then Larry spoke up.
“The short and long of it - whenever someone approaches me and says "thanks for your service" - I have flash backs to San Francisco International Airport, April 21, 1973. [I was] looking good in my dress white uniform, coming back from deployment that included my "in-country" adventure, [and] looking forward to seeing Cathie. Then 4 strangers come straight toward me and spit on my uniform as they quickly pass me. Bottom line is "too little, too late".” ~Larry
His response nearly brought me to tears. I still cannot fathom everything this man had gone through, and then to come home to his country and be made to feel like he didn’t belong. How did this happen? Are we too late for the Vietnam generation? Those veterans suffered (as all before them) for decades in silence without help, therapy, or acknowledgment for their life of sacrifice they were forced into for their country.
I’m not sure when things flipped for America and when it became patriotic once again to serve your country. I am relieved it did. However, just like so many other historic mistakes (Indian wars, slavery, the Holocaust, etc.), we cannot change the past. Our generation knows better and has learned from the mistakes of the past, so therefore we do better now. But are we?
Though they may not show it, so many are suffering in silence every day. Their wounds may never heal. As they suffer, so are their families. Though it may bring up difficult memories for some, we must continue to honor and remember our veterans not only on Veterans Day, but every day. Thanking them is good. But choosing to honor a veteran is even better.
How do we do this?
By showing respect. Respect to those that have served, and those that have fallen. Showing respect to our flag and what it represents. By removing our hats when we hear the National Anthem. By teaching our children to respect their elders, their flag, and their country. By teaching them the Pledge of Allegiance if they don’t learn it in school. By teaching our children to respect and thank veterans. Volunteering at the local VA hospitals, (http://www.volunteer.va.gov) so they know that they aren’t forgotten. And honoring those that will not be coming home. Freedom is not free.
Freedom. It sounds so simple to us, so basic, that we’ve come to take it for granted. We do not know what the eyes of our military have seen. They have witnessed what life is like in countries that do not have Old Glory. They have shielded the general public from ever knowing what that kind of a life is like. Without our veterans, we wouldn’t know what it means to have choices. Without them, we would not be a free nation. We must never forget this. For the sake of our veterans, and for those that never came home.