We have all seen them: older gentlemen, often with walking canes or slumped shoulders, wearing a cap with the words, VETERAN WWII. They are a reminder that a war most of us never knew was real, that it affected the United States more than any other conflict, before or since. The world they knew is one we can only imagine, a conflict that kept men away from home for years, not months. It was a time with no daily email or phone capability, not even access to TV news about the war. They went months with no messages, and their families suffered for months, never knowing where they were or if they were alive. We don’t have the stomach now for such deprivation and sacrifice, yet they were there for us.
And there in front of us are these few remaining heroes who fought that war. They are the closest we will ever get to that period of national unity in the face of serious aggressors. And they will soon all be just memories, their stories, and their experiences lost to eternity.
It was in our local grocery store this week that I saw such a man, walking slowly with his cane, and wearing that cap. He was alone, shuffling through the aisles, and I had an immediate thought to approach and thank him for his willingness to go into danger for our country – yet I didn’t do it. Yes, I avoided it. I realized that I would be embarrassed. ME – embarrassed. How sad, how selfish, how lacking in the ability to step forward and express the respect and admiration I felt for this gentleman. I am ashamed.
And yet, this is not new. Today is Veterans Day, and we, as a country, state pride in our veterans, but we do it collectively, not personally willing to thank one, individually. And that trite phrase,“Thank you for your service”, that I routinely hear spouted mindlessly, does not count. Maybe the issue is that we just do not know how to handle the issue. Those who have never served have no idea of what it entails, making any attempt at appreciation as a meaningless gesture.
Veterans share a world unknown to the rest of us. They have seen the horror, the sacrifice, and the heroism, and the fear that we will never know. They, and they alone, know the price they paid for the freedom we take for granted. At the least, let us show respect. Veterans Day is to celebrate them and their vital role in our world.