Veteran’s Day 2009

I suppose it was somewhat heartening to see that our national parks and forests will be giving free admissions to U.S. veterans today in honor of Armistice Day. But there’s a small, bitter part of me which always finds such gestures to ring rather hollow and to be far from enough. The debt we owe to our returning heroes runs much deeper than a free pass to Disneyland
Don’t get me wrong here… things are much better than they used to be back in my day. (I’ll just pause here a moment as I sit on the porch and knock some ashes out of my pipe while you young’uns gather round in a circle.) I still remember back when my service was finished and I came home, the military had “unofficially” relaxed the travel rules for us. Technically, when traveling under orders on free MAC flights, you were supposed to wear either your dress blues or tropical whites (depending on the season) until you reached your destination. But the word went out that we would be allowed to wear our civilian clothes while going home. The reason? Because even though the Vietnam war had technically been over for a few years by the time I got out, people were still actually spitting on the returning soldiers, sailors and airmen when they got off the planes and yelling, “baby killer.” It was a sad time, and really didn’t instill a feeling of pride in us for the service we offered up for our country.

But as I said, things have certainly improved. Whether it’s the Thank a Vet program lining up to shake hands and offer thanks for our returning warriors or Project Valor – IT providing special computer technology to our wounded vets, people do get involved in recognizing the sacrifices of our troops. But it’s still never really enough. Conditions at veterans hospitals remain below par in many instances. Grave markers are getting mixed up and remains go missing at our cemeteries. 

And perhaps the worst of all is the shocking number of unemployed and, in some cases, homeless vets across the country. There was a time when employers competed to hire veterans. They not only recognized the experience and discipline found in job applicants who are veterans, but knew that it spoke well of their company to have them on the payroll. Today you can still get a few bonus points on your civil service examination by showing your DD-214, but largely employers would rather see your experience on Wall Street than your time on the front lines.

But people can still make a difference today, even in small but very meaningful ways. If you know a veteran, be they a friend, co-worker or family member, take a moment out and go shake their hand and just say, “Thank you for your service.” It will mean a lot. Those who serve disrupt their entire lives and their whole family is making a sacrifice over a long period of time to serve the nation. And if you happen to know one of the Gold Star families, let them know that you haven’t forgotten that they made the ultimate sacrifice when their son or daughter gave the last full measure, and that we can never repay them in full.

Veteran’s day is a lot more than just an excuse for a party, a day when your mail doesn’t get delivered or a free day off for government workers. It has always meant something important, so keep it in your hearts today.

UPDATE: Moonbattery points out that veterans will be able to eat for free today at all Applebee’s restaurants. A small gesture, but it’s nice, isn’t it? They may start seeing more of my business this winter.