Veterans Day 2017; A user's guide

A tiny annual tradition played out this morning on my block, much the same has it has for at least the past 15 years. One of my neighbors, a retired woman who lives down the block with her husband, was outside before the sun was even up and she waved to me as I took the dog outside, calling, “Thank you for your service!”

Lenny, my neighbor across the street, is an Army veteran who served in the Gulf War. He tends to get up a bit later, but when he comes outside she’ll do the same for him. I used to find it embarrassing, but I’ve since grown used to it and even find it endearing. It’s nothing that changes the world in any particular way, but it’s just… nice. Neither she nor her husband ever served, but they always fly the American flag in front of their house on appropriate holidays and she always bakes food to take down to the local American Legion.

It seems like celebrating Veterans Day would be one of the simplest and least controversial things to happen in a country where virtually everything else is fodder for arguments and vindictiveness. Sadly, that’s not entirely true. In an era when an ever smaller percentage of the population signs up to enlist in the military and a near historic low percentage of members of Congress ever wore the uniform, there seems to be an element of suspicion about our military forces and, to a lesser extent, our veterans. Take, for example, this piece supposedly honoring the holiday in the Washington Post. The title alone is enough to make you wonder what exactly they’re driving at: How Veterans Day went from celebrating world peace to thanking armed forces.

On Nov. 11, we celebrate Veterans Day with parades and Old Glory T-shirts, with salutes to those who served and prayers for those who fell.

But the version of Veterans Day we know now wasn’t always so. It wasn’t always a holiday, it wasn’t always on Nov. 11 and, at first, it wasn’t even called Veterans Day. The original intent, established in the wake of World War I, was to celebrate world peace. Then the wars never ended, so Veterans Day changed.

Of course, the WaPo can fall back on the excuse that this is simply a historical perspective piece. It’s true that the holiday was originally called Armistice Day and part of the reason for honoring it was in recognition of the peace agreements following World War I. But it’s equally true, as the WaPo article includes, that when Woodrow Wilson signed the original proclamation, the very first sentence included the phrase, “Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory…”

The same paper has gone out of their other way to offer dissenting voices, such as this piece from an active duty soldier titled, “Hero worship of the military presents an obstacle to good policy.”

The author of that essay actually brings up some points which many veterans regularly repeat. Don’t call us heroes. The real heroes came back in flag-draped coffins. Most of us just did our jobs. All true, of course. My own service took place during peacetime and my closest call with combat consisted of endlessly circling a desolate stretch of the Arabian Sea during the Iran hostage crisis. But still, that focus on disparaging the idea of “hero worship” as somehow corrosive rankles.

Granted, none of our major television news outlets and papers ever cross the line and just come right out with a call to eliminate Veterans Day or stop recognizing those who served. But… it just seems to be lurking under the covers sometimes.

In the end, you’re free to ignore the holiday if you wish. But if you do feel compelled to go out of your way to thank a veteran today, don’t be shy. Even if some of us seem embarrassed by it, believe me… if that’s the worst thing that happens to any of us today it will be a pretty good day indeed. And if you want to say something on social media, it doesn’t really need to be nuanced. The President came out with a tweet this morning which seemed to be most appropriate. (An unusual situation on Twitter in the opinion of many.)

Fair enough, sir.