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Remembering Those Who Served

November 11, 2016

 

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Today is Veterans’ Day, a commemorative holiday that should be of great significance to us all. But I wonder about the emotional connection that seems to be missing for far too many Americans.

I believe several factors have contributed to this. The mood of the nation has soured on military involvement abroad. More significantly, the advent of the all-volunteer army has insulated the vast majority of Americans from those who now are put in the position of fighting in our name. We all seem to forget when it is somebody else’s parent or sibling or child who is in harm’s way.

But for some Americans, this is a day that cannot be ignored. These Americans are the ones who have served in war. They are 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 upon 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 or the accounts of Owen West in The Snake Eaters, of Nathaniel Fitch in One Bullet Away, of Donovan Campbell in Joker One. 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.

Talk to a veteran, at the very least to express thanks for his or her service. Talk to their family members to perhaps gain some perspective on the situation in which they have found themselves. Do something positive to aid a vet who is in need, or contribute in some way to those organizations which are already doing so. Check out their websites. Help in whatever way you can, even if it’s making a small donation.

So today on this Veterans Day, recognize the veterans who are undoubtedly around you. 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, I believe we should once again look at it as a privilege to remember and honor those who have served.

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