Sometimes we Americans need reminders about our veterans and today is one of those reminder days. Today, we celebrate Veteran’s Day. It comes and goes each year and often with little fanfare or notice. Sure, some people put out flags, others have federal holidays, and if we are in a crowd of people we recognize and thank the veterans present. But what does being a veteran really mean?
Being a veteran in its simplistic form means that a man or woman joined a branch of the United States military and served our country. That person may have been drafted, or he or she may have decided to volunteer. Regardless of the method of the call, that man or woman answered it. They showed up, signed up, and completed some physical exams. From there they were sworn into the service and given a date for basic training.
Imagine being a young person, perhaps 18 or 19, and deciding to leave home. Just yesterday you were playing football for the local high school team or cheering them onward. You were in classes with friends. You celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving with your family. Your mother was likely still cooking your dinner and maybe even washing your clothing. Now, on the day you prepare to leave for basic, you are going into an unknown world. You are leaving home no longer a child, but an adult with adult responsibilities.
In a few short hours you will be prepared, given new clothing, and most likely introduced to someone way more demanding than your school teachers ever thought about being. You will be in rooms filled with others following the same footsteps. You will train, you will learn, and then you will train some more. Just when you think the physical and mental training is complete, someone will have the bright idea that you need to be pushed just a little more. So, you will be pushed. Finally, when all that training is done, you will be ready to serve…somewhere.
You may find yourself on a ship in the middle of the ocean, or a remote outpost secluded by woods, snow, or even sand. You will have time off, but not really since you are almost on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. After all, our military has to be ready for anything.
You will sign up for exotic places to serve like Japan or Hawaii and you will end up serving somewhere like Afghanistan. You will just get used to the language, the people, and make new friends when the military will decide you need to go somewhere else.
If you have a family, you will drag them around the world as you move. One day you may be in Germany and then the next day you may find yourself back in the states. You will put in for the transfers you want, and accept the transfers you get. If you are lucky, the only time you will fire a weapon will be for practice. If you are unlucky, then your country will call you to fire that weapon in the name of freedom at people you have never met or known.
Then, for some may be as fast as it started, you will come home. There will be changes to your hometown. You will not recognize the football team anymore, the city will have grown or maybe faded. Your mother will be older and your father will be slower. For a time, you will feel like you missed so much. Whether you are serving for two years, four years, or twenty, you will come back a different man or woman to a different home.
At first, you may not realize it, but you are a veteran now. There have been times that being a veteran meant you were called “baby-killers” and other horrible names, but to those of us that recognize the sacrifice of youth, years, and time, you will be honored as a veteran.
The title veteran does not come easy…it is earned. It is earned from the moment the boy or girl takes an oath to serve to the moment a man or woman steps out of the service. The veteran gives a part of themselves…they give a part of their lives to this nation. The veteran has given so that the flag will still fly over this land. The veteran has given so that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights will still matter to each American. The veteran has given not for glory or for statues and great honors…no, the veteran has given for you and me.
Today we honor those veterans who have given so much to this country. We will put out our flags, smile, clap for them, honor them, and thank them for their service. Tomorrow the flags will be put away, the “Thank You” post will stop on social media, and life will return as normal. Today is our reminder day. But tomorrow we need to keep in mind that the veteran is still here. In a society that seeks heroes daily, it’s nice to know that the American hero known as the veteran can always be found among us throughout the year and not just on one special day. *
* “Reflecting on Veteran’s Day” was originally published in The Four States News November 11, 2020.