It is wonderful this time of year to participate in Veterans Day celebrations. I love seeing our newest veterans being honored for their service and sacrifice of our nation. There is such a sense of pride when we see these military men and women celebrated and recognized. There is just something special about seeing them in their uniforms adorned with medals, ribbons and badges that tell their stories.
For those of us who served in the Vietnam War, there is a special feeling of not just pride, but also of having created the environment in America that these celebrations take place. It was not always like that. When we returned home from our war there was a decidedly different homecoming.
I was never the subject of abuse and I am not sure I know anyone personally who was. Perhaps some of those stories are urban myths. But it can hardly be denied that at best we were under-appreciated and at times criticized for our participation in that most unpopular war.
The great majority of us simply tried to put our experience in perspective behind us. OK, we thought, maybe we do not get parades. There is no Ernie Pyle to tell our stories. No realistic hero movies like “Saving Private Ryan.” We had no Audie Murphy to be our face. But we will make the best of it and be the best citizens we can be.
It was hard service in a difficult war. We served out of a sense of duty and patriotism. And we were forever changed. We learned about service, sacrifice, courage, unbearable loss, but also the satisfaction of duty well preformed.
We were often depicted as kooks, crazies and sometimes victims. But for most of us, that is not how it turned out. We became your doctors, lawyers, neighbors, plumbers and stockbrokers. We became your children’s teachers, coaches and Scout leaders.
And we did something else. Over time and with graciousness and dignity, we let America know that our military veterans are to be honored, even when the cause the fought for seems wrong or misguided. We accepted not being welcomed home as heroes, but each in our own way started building the national conscience to never let it happen again.
First, we made sure we took care of our own. We greeted each other with “welcome home,” as that is what we missed the most. We hugged each other as only those who had gone through what we had, could. Sometimes it was just a nod and a knowing look.
And then we saw veterans of other wars coming home and we became the point men for making sure they felt welcomed. We organized celebrations and parades and encourage others to do the same.
And now we are so pleased to see this newest generation of veterans, of what’s turned out to be more unpopular wars, coming home to the hero’s welcome they deserve. There is not a hint of envy or bitterness to be found in us. We are so proud of them and so proud of how America has learned to treat its most recent returning warriors.
We dare not forget our moral obligation to them to ensure they get the benefits they so richly deserve and have earned. Let us make sure we take care of those who lost a provider and a loved one. Seek out some family and find out how if they might need help. Visit a veterans home and ask if you can be someone’s partner in a board game, read a book, take a walk and or just visit.
Veterans Day is a day to collectively gather and recognize our former and current military men and women. When you see a veteran or a man or women in uniform, thank them for his or her service. Put up your American flag. Attend one of those ceremonies or parades.
Sing the national anthem with pride and if you cannot carry a tune, sing loud anyway. Let’s be proud of our nation and what we have done for many around the world. Show the world we are still the great experiment in freedom and liberty and we learn from our mistakes only to get better and stronger.
This Veterans Day I will put out my American flag in front of my house and salute it with a special thought that on this day, and every day, I honor our veterans.