One of my least favorite times of the year is this week. I really don’t like Veteran’s Day and all the things that go with it. On the front of my truck, I have a yellow license plate from my former squadron in Charleston, WV. Otherwise, I don’t wear any clothing that advertises that I was in the Air Force. I don’t have any bumper stickers celebrating that I was in Afghanistan or Iraq. I don’t have any tattoos remembering that time of my life either. I do have some pictures on the computer and occasionally, I will share them on here. But generally speaking, I don’t go out of my way to tell someone I don’t know that I served. When I do share that knowledge, it is on my own terms and on my own timing kind of like this article.
Sunday at Church, the pastor asked that all the veterans stand up for the preverbal recognition from those in attendance. I sat still until my wife very nicely reminded me that I needed to stand up. I have never liked being recognized for serving in the military. In 2003, my wife’s church was having a special service to recognize those who were serving and my wife asked me to go and wear my uniform. That was just about the last thing I wanted to do, so I conned my buddy Billy G. into going with me. It didn’t make it any better, but I was glad to have him there.
A year or so later, he and I were returning from a rotation over there. We didn’t know it, but the local TV station reporter was doing a story about our return. They were following my wife and Billy’s wife around before we arrived, they wanted to video our wives greeting us when we got off the airplane and then they were going to interview us all for a couple minutes of fame on the nightly news. Billy and I had no idea all this was going on when we landed. As our wives ran up to us, I saw a camera man out of the corner of my eye. I ignored him and embraced my wife, when I opened my eyes he was standing right there recording it. We were taught that we didn’t have to be video recorded if we didn’t want to be and that the media people knew that if we asked to not be recorded, then they had to honor our wishes. In the middle of the embrace, I told him to stop filming me but he didn’t drop the camera. I got irate and told him with some language that was not polite to turn the camera off. He reluctantly did and moved over to Billy. My wife got rather upset that I was not being pleasant with the camera guy and she explained that she was part of the story. I don’t remember what I said but it wasn’t the ideally romantic reunion. Later that night, we watched Billy on television and laughed about it so all was okay.
A few years ago my daughter’s second grade teacher, Ms. P, found out that I was a veteran. One day at pick-up time, Ms. P asked me if I would be willing to come into the class room and talk to the students about Veteran’s Day. I really didn’t want to do it, but since I would be talking to my daughter’s class I was going to do it. Surprisingly, it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the interaction with the kids. Every year since, Ms. P asked me to come into her class again and talk to the kids. It wasn’t long before I reverted to my find a buddy technique. Now I take some friends with me each year, I call it show and tell.
I tell the following stories so you know that I am consistent in my uncomfortableness with Veteran’s Day. I don’t mind people thanking me and I don’t mind people going out of their way to say something nice. I am glad that people take time to remember the veterans and I am pleased that we as a nation take pride in our neighbors, friends and family members who served. If I were to be honest with myself, I think that I don’t like the recognition is because I didn’t serve to be recognized. I didn’t serve to protect the constitution and I didn’t serve to risk my life for freedom. Everything I did in the military was because it was something I wanted to do. It was a very selfish time for me and I was seeking adventure as a member of the military. One of the reasons I got out at thirteen years was because there was no more adventure to be found for me. There were no more dragons to be slain and I was out of the business of rescuing fair maidens.
Before you write me off as a grumpy old man, I do find great pleasure in helping other veterans have a great Veteran’s Day. Once again this year, Ms. P asked me to come to her class and talk to the class. I called up two Marines and one Air Force veteran to go with me. These men are from different sections of my world, they have never met each other and any other group of men, it might be uncomfortable. But they bonded on the drive to the school, asking each other where they served, when they served and all those types of questions. Twenty minutes later, they were fast friends. We spent about an hour with the kids as they asked all kinds of great questions. Afterwards, I took my hired veterans out to lunch and had another veteran meet us there. The fourth veteran was Bert C., a Marine who fought in Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands in World War II. Bert is 94 years old and while being relatively healthy, he doesn’t get around so well so he has a lady who is his caregiver during the day. His presence in the restaurant was the best part of the day for me and I think the other veterans too.
I tell this story to help explain what veterans want most tomorrow. Of course, I don’t want to speak for every veteran but I am speaking for myself and you can assume it will earn the respect of other veterans. Words of thanks are great and we all need verbal encouragement. But what really counts is taking the time to write a short letter of thanks, or buying them a coffee at the gas station or Starbucks, or even buying their meal. Tomorrow is one of the few days of the year that you will not find me in a restaurant because of the commotion that is Veteran’s Day. But if you want to make an impression on some day other than Veteran’s Day if you see a guy in a military hat or driving a can with a sticker on it; buy him a cup of coffee. If you must do something tomorrow to celebrate the day, take the time to write a real live letter to a veteran; That will be more memorable to them than a kind word on November 11th.
I am enclosing a link to an article my friend Padre Steve wrote yesterday about Veteran’s Day. I think it is the most honest description about the day that I have ever read. https://wordpress.com/read/post/feed/770114/858207004
Until next time, keep on rockin.