Happy Veterans Day, 2015!
I don’t mind saying “happy Veterans Day” because as solemn as the occasion may be for some, it is indeed a day of celebration. America’s veterans should be celebrated and in many corners of the nation they are. On this occasion, however, I would like to share a few thoughts about our country’s complicated history as it pertains to our relationship with our veterans.
As most regular readers are likely aware, I offered my own service in uniform to the nation from the late 70s through the early 80s. But I was only one of a long line of men who took up arms and each generation faced very different circumstances in our service. Fathers, sons and grandsons dealt with different reactions from the public and, to be truthful, from our own families. My grandfather, my father, all my uncles and most of my cousins served in the nation’s armed forces. It was just something that you did where I grew up. The previous ranks, including the Greatest Generation, had their own stories to tell but they rarely spoke of them outside the family. My father was knocked down (but not out) while fighting the Germans in France under General George Patton. The nation thanked him and all of his fellow warriors when they returned home.
The situation in our nation’s social culture changed for later wars. I had uncles who served in Korea and cousins who fought in Vietnam. Some didn’t make it back, but all were changed forever by their experiences. There was little in the way of celebration for them. Out on the streets of major cities there were protests and little regard for those who risked or gave all when the nation called upon them to serve. This was a debate which raged in our own family when I was growing up. The few boys who didn’t serve were looked at a bit differently by the elders. As I said above… it was complicated.
When I entered the service it was during a “time of peace” immediately following the end of the Vietnam War. (Most people didn’t consider the Iran hostage crisis as a “time of war” and, in truth, it was not. It just felt that way.) It felt, during peacetime, that veterans were not viewed in the same way as the heroes who returned from Germany in my father’s day. The world had moved on and there were new priorities. I couldn’t really complain, even if I’d had the perspective to do so (I didn’t) because the real heroes had most certainly come before me.
The general consensus these days has, thankfully, shifted back to a greater appreciation of our vets. My family continues to send young men off to do the dirty business of war. One of my nephews just returned from his last tour in Afghanistan earlier this year and has enrolled in additional college education with a good offer of employment awaiting him. It’s a welcome sign of the times. He was changed forever by his experiences fighting the Taliban, but he answered the call and the nation rests safe in the knowledge that rough young men like him stand ready to defend them in times of duress.
This is one area where the policies of the White House and the varying comments of Congress have little to no impact, at least in terms of the day to day interactions we have with our veterans. There are still lines of people who show up at our regional airport to greet returning warriors. Even though the VA is a disaster and needs a complete overhaul, in other areas we offer better benefits to our veterans than back in my day and our communities show their support in very public ways. Let’s hope that this positive trend continues.
I’ll close by saying to all of you out there what my friendly neighbor makes a point of saying to me every year… Thank you for your service. And if you are a veteran, here is a list of places offering special benefits for you today.