A few years ago, my wife and I visited Branson, Missouri. While there, we attended a show. During the show, the entertainers acknowledged all of the military veterans in attendance, and then broke into a rendition of the song “I’m Proud to be an American.” As a veteran myself, I appreciated their acknowledgment. But what really struck me was the reaction of my fellow veterans as the entertainers began singing. Without any prompting whatsoever, my fellow veterans suddenly began standing – one by one, then two by two, and then by the handfuls. Eventually, everyone in the crowd, most of whom are not veterans, was standing.
As I stood there, I began contemplating this great nation. I began contemplating what it means to be an American. I began contemplating what it means to be an American veteran. In that moment, I was never so proud to be a veteran. To stand proudly with other men and women who had defended the freedoms of not only our citizenry, but citizens of foreign lands.
Each November, this nation celebrates Veterans Day. A day set aside to acknowledge all who have served in our armed forces. This day has its genesis in an event that occurred 95 years ago. That event was an armistice agreement between the Allied forces and Germany that ended the hostilities of World War I, and was then regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.” The armistice agreement was signed on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, of 1918. That is the reason we celebrate Veterans Day (formerly called Armistice Day) on this date.
For many people, Veterans Day is just another holiday. It’s just another opportunity to enjoy a three day weekend. It’s just one more day to enjoy the freedoms accorded Americans. Some people do so without giving even a fleeting thought to the military veterans who defended and preserved those freedoms. Fortunately, I believe most Americans truly do appreciate what veterans have done, and continue to do, to protect their freedoms. However, many Americans do not go out of their way to show their appreciation to our veterans. That is sad and unfortunate.
Military service is mentally and physically challenging. Military personnel train incessantly. They are held to standards of discipline and decorum that, to some, are unimaginable. And they are called upon, at times, to take the life of enemy combatants. I am grateful that during my military service I was never placed in a position to take the life of another person. I can only imagine the level of mental toughness needed to do so. I admire the mettle of those who have done so, and go on to lead (at least perceptibly) normal lives.
Military service can also be emotionally challenging. Military personnel experience many lonely days and nights. They are called away from their homes for months on end, with family members not knowing their whereabouts. I recall being deployed on a submarine for several months, from the beginning of November through the month of May the following year. That meant being underway (and submerged) for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Easter, holidays that are traditionally spent with family. Needless to say, it was not all that enjoyable. Sure, as this picture from Christmas Day illustrates, I was with my shipmates. But, as you can imagine, it was just not the same as being with family.
With very few exceptions, my fellow veterans strived to exemplify some of humanity’s most highly regarded characteristics – courage, humility, integrity, and patriotism. They willingly and courageously placed themselves in harm’s way to protect our fellow citizens’ freedoms – on land, in the air, and on (or under) the seas. They joined the military to serve our nation, not to gain public accolade or personal gain. They remained true to their oath to support and defend the Constitution. They served out of love for, and a sense of duty to, our country.
I am certain that each of you has a family member, friend, or even an acquaintance who is a military veteran. I encourage you on this Veterans Day, to make a veteran’s day. Go out of your way to thank a veteran, go out of your way to honor a veteran. I assure you they will appreciate it. Their response may not be overtly expressive, but inwardly they will be filled with pride, joy, and gratefulness. It matters not whether one person or several persons thank them. The result will be the same. They will feel a renewed sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, knowing that at least one of their fellow Americans appreciates their sacrifice.
I, too, want to take this opportunity to honor my fellow veterans. That was my impetus for writing this particular post. And so, my fellow veterans, this one’s for you! I sincerely thank each of you for your service to our country. I thank all of my fellow submariners for your service to our nation and to the “silent service.” I especially thank all of my former shipmates who served with me onboard the USS Permit (SSN-594) between 1983 and 1986. I thank you not just for your service to this nation, but for the honor of serving along side you and for your service to me as your shipmate. You are some of the greatest men I have ever known.
You, my fellow veterans, deserve my honor. You, my fellow veterans, deserve this nation’s honor. After all, you earned it.