The parades have ended by now, the bands are silenced, the floats and trailers sequestered in storage for another year.
Yet just because Veterans Day has passed and people are now thinking turkey, Black Friday, presents, and the next special day that invariably comes along giving cause for celebration, Veterans Day should not be over.
Our veterans are our living history books, our links to the multi-square quilt that makes up America. They have defended our flag, secured our borders, fought for our freedoms, and are fiercely proud they did so. To them, Veterans Day is more than a parade, a series of Americanism exercises, or the kind offer of a free meal, a discount, or a benefit that comes without cost. Still, what they did came at a great cost, whether their service was performed on a battlefield or behind a desk in peace time.
The numbers vary depending upon the source used, but the fact still remains those numbers are quickly dwindling. Each day we lose approximately 500-600 World War II veterans, upward of 500 Korean War vets, and 390 of those who served in the Vietnam War. They didn’t do it for a free hamburger on November 11th nor for a furniture sale, a mattress blowout, or an automobile dealership gala event. They did it because their country asked them to do so and because it was their job. Along the way, the outcomes differed widely. Some outcomes were positive, some vastly negative. We lost limbs, lives, and healthy states of mind in the process; and no one day a year can ever be enough to thank and honor them for their sacrifice.
Since 9/11 it has become de rigueur to utter a simple “Thank you for your service” each time one encounters an active military person or veteran; but there is so much more that needs be said. Every single person who served has stories within them; some are forthcoming when they return, but many are not. The Greatest Generation did their job and came home. Case closed. They had to get back to work and support families. Vietnam veterans were scorned and ridiculed, their service often not recognized, their stories finding little audience. They had to fight the battles of PTSD alone and get on with their lives. Yet the fact remained that those pieces of living history could not so easily forget and just get back to work.
When I was in school so many years ago now the course was called, quite simply, “History.” Not Social Studies nor Civics nor some other title. It was History, either American History or World History or both. At the beginning of the year you got a hardcover textbook, were told what chapters to read, and what to memorize just enough to pass a test. So your sense of history was what was contained within the well-worn pages of a book; but no book could ever impart the feelings, the fears, the joys, the faces, laughter, and tears of the men and women who fought the wars. No multiple choice nor true and false exam would ever be able to detail if those choices were correct and what was true and what was false to them.
Veterans are here, all around us. We don’t just dress them up in funny hats and poppies and trot them out for parades. They are here: in our churches and synagogues, our supermarkets, doctors’ offices, and clubs. They sit next to you at the theater and raise a glass with you at the bar. Their children and grandchildren go to school with yours, and you’ll find them in the stands at Little League, at soccer games, dance recitals, and school plays.
The price we pay for freedom should be repaid by taking the time to get to know a veteran — to not just perfunctorily say, “thank you for your service,” but by asking them what they did during their service. Ask for their stories, and you may just open up a whole new history book. Without multiple choices, true and false questions, and mindless memorization.
In America, every single day of freedom is our Veterans Day...with no mattress sales, car deals, or free meals to get in the way.