To Honor Those Who Have Served

November 11, 2013


Today is Veterans’ Day. For many Americans, it is not such a notable holiday. There are parades here and there and a few stories on TV news magazine programs. The Post Office, government offices, and courts are closed as are some schools (their option). But I wonder about the emotional connection that seems to be missing. I fear that the impact of the significance of this day is minimal for far too many Americans .

However, for some Americans, this is a day that cannot be ignored. These Americans are the ones who have served in war. They are also the fathers and mothers, the sisters and brothers, the husbands and wives, and the sons and daughters of those vets.  This day is a time to acknowledge the sacrifices they have made, something in my opinion that should be done at every opportunity, not just on one day.

Since its institution as a holiday in 1919 to commemorate the November 11, 1918, cessation of fighting during World War I — supposedly the “war to end all wars” — there have been numerous occasions for American soldiers to be called to take up arms. World War II. The Korean War (or Korean Conflict for those who like to overlook reality). The Vietnam War. The Gulf War. The Iraq War. The War in Afghanistan. And if history is any indicator, there will be others yet to come.

We need to pay tribute to these Americans who have heeded that call even if we are not one of them. We need to think about those who went to war and returned forever affected by their experience. We owe them that much.

If you are not a veteran of war, if you have not been sent away from your home and friends and family to a strange and hostile far-off land, then you can’t know what it’s really like. You have not had to experience the often random and brutal death and destruction that is part of war. That is understandable. But you can do something to open your eyes to the realities that others have lived through on your behalf.

Read what those veterans who have served have written about these realities. They wrote what they did to try to get you to understand — at least a little bit — what it was like to be there, and what it is like to carry the scars, both physical and emotional, back home again. Read the poems of Yusef Komunyakaa about the soldiers’ perilous life in the jungles of Vietnam or those of Brian Turner who writes with such insight about the trials of serving in the Iraqi desert. The time and location may differ from war to war, but the essence of the experience remains the same. Whether you agree or not with these or any other wars, the people who are sent and who must make the sacrifices deserve your attention.

Visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Touch the names on that shiny black wall and watch those who come to mourn or remember. Talk to a veteran, at the very least to thank him or her for their service. Talk to their family members to perhaps feel some of their emotion and reflect on the situation in which they have found themselves. Better yet, do something positive to aid a vet who is in need, or contribute in some way to those who are already doing so. The Wounded Warrior Project is one such organization which has been doing wonderful things. Check out their website. Help in whatever way you can, even if it’s making a small donation.

So today is Veterans Day. Do what you can to recognize them today. Pay attention to their stories in whatever form they present themselves. Remember their stories on normal days as well because their normal days in many cases have been forever changed. Though it is, I believe, our obligation to do so, start to look at it as a privilege to honor those who have served.

To paraphrase the words of my friend Sarah, the proud daughter of a Vietnam vet, Happy Veterans Day to all the people who left everything behind to fight for our country and who teach us about the true sacrifice of war.


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