It occurred quite a few times this year. I heard the thanks. I saw the flags flying. I saw the discounts offered, as well as the free meals. I saw the social media posts. I saw the messages on magnetic letter signs.
We see it everywhere on November 11th, and yet, do we feel the sincerity? Do we sense a true appreciation? Or is it all just noise? Is it all just formality, something we do one day, and for 364 other days it is vacant from our minds? Are we really even thankful? Do we understand what has been given, what has been taken? We hear the word sacrifice; but what does it really mean?
I’ll tell you. It means twenty-four hour days and no weekends. It means 4 AM runs and 10 PM training operations. It means 130 degrees in full gear and sleeping bags on rocky ground. It means months without showers and toilets. It means sleepless nights for spouses, waiting for calls or letters. It means childhoods minus one parent (or two). It means crappy pay and worse benefits. It means lost limbs and troubled minds. It means stress and fear. It means tears and white grave stones.
We must remember that Memorial Day is reserved for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, but there are veterans walking around right now that deserve something more than a flippant thanks and a day of freebies. Some people struggle with the idea that others “fight for their freedom.” How could this be true when our modern military is sent to other parts of the world to fight in wars that have nothing to do with our freedom here at home? This isn’t 1776; we’re already a free nation, independent from the rule of another. While these are astute observations, they are too simplistic.
Our military exists primarily to act in defense of our nation. One key aspect of defense is offense. If Hitler had been left to take over Europe and Hirohito had been left alone to take over the Pacific and Asia, the world would look much different. For modern day reference, if Islamic terrorists are left to flourish then an attack on the United States is inevitable. The existence of a nation’s military is paramount to its safety and standing.
While some actions by our military may have been ill-advised and yes, even reckless, and no matter how you feel about our military’s involvements around the world, those who have served in the military are not to blame. When citizens join the military, they are signing themselves away, up to and including their life. They don’t choose where they are sent or which conflicts they participate in. In fact, there have been and will be many that question the choices of the government that sends them, yet this does not deter them from doing the job they swore to do.
Myself, I’m not quite sold on Veteran’s Day. I don’t take part in any discounts; I don’t look for free meals; I even cringe at the sound of someone thanking me for my service. In my mind, my service was neither comparable to those who served before me, nor was it comparable to those of my peers who gave their lives or limbs. Those are the men and women who receive my gratitude.
To me, Veteran’s Day is society’s way of squeezing that gratitude into a hype-filled, 24-hour box. Yes, it is an effort to make notice of veterans, and a noble one at that. But to me it’s not enough. To me it shouldn’t be a single day, but a yearlong attitude; a steady mindset of thankfulness. It should be a constant awareness of the sacrifices made by our own, United States brothers and sisters and the suffering they face daily. It shouldn’t be about free meals or Facebook posts or 20% off of appetizers, it should be about finding these veterans homes and jobs, it should be about empathizing and understanding with what they are facing, it should be about giving them a new purpose, a reason to live, and it should all happen 365 days a year.