While Memorial Day is a time to honor and remember those who have fallen during military conflict, Veterans Day is meant to celebrate the military service of all men and women who have chosen to accept the uniform. At its heart is a commemoration of those who accept it as their role to defend the American ideals of equality and freedom. The great freedoms that we all enjoy were gained and maintained at a price. The price is a willingness to give of one’s self, one’s very life if needed, so that all people can live a life marked by liberty.
Veterans Day is meant to be one of our nation’s greatest days and yet it is a holiday often overlooked and misunderstood. For most, it is simply a day off work. As I considered the meaning of the holiday, I asked a few people what they do to celebrate Veterans Day and got responses like: “I shop, sleep, relax,” “I’m not a veteran, but it’s a holiday I celebrate anyways,” and “Nothing in particular. I normally call [a relative] that is a veteran to thank him for his service.” While none of these responses is negative, none truly grasps the enormity of the task that we have all placed upon the American military and the sacrifice that our fellow brothers and sisters make every day.
This apparent apathy is something that would seem to be a byproduct of the very thing we are celebrating. In celebrating peace and those who are willing to fight for it, we are celebrating something that is in its very nature humble and selfless. We are celebrating the ideals of freedom, peace and liberty that we all have grown too accustomed to enjoying and as a result we, as a whole, have no true concept of the meaning or cost that makes it so valuable. We are also remembering a group of people that in their very nature serve humbly and quietly in the background, living and walking amongst us as silent heroes.
The view of our military
The relationship between our government, military personnel and civilian population has had different viewpoints and positions. There were times in our country’s history when the military was seen as an honorable endeavor and one that carried the very torch of freedom in defense of the opposition in the world. It was very clear during times such as World Wars I and II and the Cold War, that our military was a silent force that ensured the American, and in many ways Christian, way of life. Then there were periods of time marked by wars and conflicts that the government and American citizens were at odds about. As a result of this, the support for our soldiers was absent and in many cases confrontational. The politicization of the role of our military has had a lasting negative impact on those returning from service and re-acclimating to civilian lifestyle.
More recently, the support and view of our military greatly improved after the 9/11 Attacks, but even then the entire nation has been torn on how to view our military personnel. While the overwhelming response was one of positive support and national patriotism, there continues to be a residual cloud over how we as a country view those willing to put on the uniform and train to do battle. In a recent survey, done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for the Got Your 6 campaign, the overwhelming current perception of post 9/11 military veterans is one of “broken heroes.” These negative associations make it difficult for us as a nation to embrace the service of veterans in a way that truly reflects the great sacrifice that our young men and women take on.
This issue is further compounded by the very nature of our most honorable military personnel, one of quiet diligent service. The very people that we want to honor and celebrate for their service are those who shy from the spotlight of community accolades and would rather not have the focus be on what they have done. While ready to step forward and lead in a moment’s notice, when asked to accept accolades because of their veteran status these same men and women will graciously decline. I have met numerous Special Forces troops, those who train the hardest and face the most difficult challenges, who would never say a word about their service and when congratulated in public quickly change the subject. They are just doing their job, they say.
Personally, I have never felt like a hero because of my own service in the Army. Even my time overseas in support of Operation Joint Guard , a part of NATO’s Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, seems little like the things in story books and movies. And yet I have come to believe a little differently about the long hours and nights in a foreign land that seemed so mundane and uneventful at the time. It has only been upon reflection, many years after my own service, that I recognize the sacrifice we all made and even then it is only in my support of our current troops that I have begun to think of my time as special. It truly was a great honor to serve my country and I am proud to call myself a veteran.
Pause and thank a veteran
On November 11th we are all called to take a moment and remember the men and women who have accepted the role as defenders of this great nation. It honors a group of people that do not seek accolades but need to know that they have our support. In times of peace, we need to honor those willing to train and be ready. In times of conflict and desperation, it is the person willing to lift up the sword of defense that should be remembered with praise. It is the protection of the downtrodden, the weak, the oppressed that should elicit our adoration and support. Veterans Day is our nation’s time to remember, celebrate and commemorate those who have been willing to take up the mantle of leadership and fight for peace.
As a way to honor our troops, consider supporting efforts that help veterans to transition back into civilian life. Organizations like Mission United (unitedwaybroward.org/missionunited) and Operation Lift Hope (operationlifthope.org) are two local examples of collective efforts to address those veterans who face challenges. There are also events around Veterans Day that raise awareness and celebrate local veterans. One example is an honorary service held by Everlasting Life Church on November 8th at 10am at Eagle Point Elementary School in Weston (elchurch.org),
Robin Martin is executive director of HOPE South Florida, a nonprofit organization serving homeless and hurting individuals and families through partnerships with churches and community services. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Army and served in the Bosnia Peace Keeping Mission. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org