On Tuesday, Nov. 11, bands will play, speeches will be read out loud and veterans of most ages, genders, faiths and ethnicities will be celebrated for the one thing they all have very much in common — at some point in their respective lives, they put on a uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States of America and they made a pledge to defend this nation and her allies.
We honor those who served foreign and abroad, in the heat of combat or in times of peace. We pay homage to those whose jobs put them in the direct line of enemy fire, or those who filled other vital roles in keeping our military fit, fast and furious. For, you see, no matter what their military occupation was, or when it was served, the fact of the matter is these people put themselves between the good guys and the bad guys, so to speak.
And that deserves our gratitude.
For the most part, we’ve done a good job over the years appreciating our men and women who serve. Yes, there was a period when a divided nation did not afford the proper respect to our troops coming home from Vietnam, and that’s a permanent black eye on our country, in my opinion, but I also feel as if we’ve learned from that grotesque slight.
I remember returning home from the first Gulf War, our nation’s first major deployment since Vietnam. Many of us who had been stranded in a desert in isolation for seven months did not know what to expect. Some of the older Marines shared their heartbreaking tales of how they were received when they came home from Vietnam, and we were all a little wary.
Would there be ticker-tape parades, like the aftermath of World War II? Would there be people spitting on us and holding derogatory signs? Would there be a general indifference, like people didn’t really pay attention to the fact we were over there in the first place? And, really, wouldn’t the indifference hurt just as much as the name-calling and outward displays of disrespect?
It was amazing.
A band played on the tarmac as we stepped off our flight in North Carolina. People stood with signs of support along the road as we made our way back to Camp Lejeune, and horns honked as we passed 18-wheelers.
At one point, while stopped at a red light, people came out of a McDonald’s and began cheering. Many of us cheered back or waved. It was exciting and humbling and overwhelming and made us more grateful to be Americans than we’d ever felt before.
And it was exactly what we needed.
That was 1991, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Actually, I remember it much better than I remember yesterday, as that tends to be a recurring theme these days. I swear, if I didn’t write down what I was supposed to do on any given day, it would...
But I digress.
My point is that there were no Democrats or Republicans, inside that bus or lining the streets. There were just Americans, celebrating each other and sharing a bond that truly mattered. It was everything we are supposed to be as a nation — a melting pot of people with different backgrounds, dreams and personal situations, but with a commonality we could all enjoy. We were proud Americans.
This Veterans Day we will still have the pleasure of honoring men and women who served in World War II, though, sadly, their numbers are dwindling by the year. There will be veterans from Korea, Beirut, Granada, Vietnam, Somalia and other theaters who will earn our love and support.
And there will be many, many veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Perhaps of all the veterans from all the wars we have fought, these are the men and women I feel the most concern for these days. They have been nothing short of extraordinary in their collective service to this nation, and there are no doubts in my mind that we will one day see a president and head of a Fortune 500 company come from this group.
But they’ve been through a different kind of war — one that can probably only be related to by those who served in Vietnam in terms of the controversial nature of our involvement, the uncertainty that comes with fighting a foe that is not always wearing a uniform and the sheer number of tours so many took on in their tenures. Combine all those elements with a nation that doesn’t do an exemplary job of taking care of its veterans on a governmental level, and I worry that many of these men and women will be left behind in terms of re-adapting to society.
I worry that they’re facing a lot, but I’m also confident that if any group of people can overcome those stumbling blocks, it’s these men and women. They have endured. They have persevered. And they have battled.
As we celebrate our veterans this year and honor those who have served in wars and generations past, let’s also be sure to take a moment to pay homage to the ones who have come home from our most recent strifes. They deserve our applause and support as much as anyone.