As Veterans Day approaches it would serve all of us to remember how this day came to be. Nearly a century ago—during World War I—there was an armistice between the Allied forces and Germany. The cessation of hostilities went into effect on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918–at the end of the “war to end all wars.”
A year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first “Armistice Day” to be recognized at 11 AM, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. After WWII the name was changed to Veterans Day and the day was set aside to honor American Veterans of all wars.
Throughout the years I can’t help but reflect on how my life has been touched by veterans. The veterans of WWII were key to bringing an end to the Nazi regime in 1945 and defeating the Axis powers. My father was liberated on a transport train from a German concentration camp by the U.S. Army. It was the U.S. Military that set up Displaced Persons camps in Germany after the war –it’s where my parents met and remained protected until they came to this country in 1947.
Half a million American men and women died in WWII. Many more were injured and carried the emotional scars for the rest of their lives. The wars continue—arguably some of them were in hindsight frustrating misadventures—but our military has stood at the ready, poised to make incredible sacrifices so that our country can continue its struggle to become a “more perfect union”.
We live in times of great challenges—both from without and within. But I am heartened by the fact that there have always been an intelligent, hard-working and selfless group of men and women that would protect our country and its values. However imperfect we are as a people and a nation we have the freedom and wherewithal to adapt in this ever changing world.
If you are like me you struggle with how to “honor” vets. I have never served in the military but it occurs to me that the way to honor vets is both straightforward and quite difficult. If you know a veteran one of the most important things you can do is to give them the opportunity to tell their stories–they all have them. Many of them may have never shared their stories or are not ready to share them. But let them know you’re interested. Let them know you appreciate their service and be respectful. Don’t expect them to “open up” quickly. Be patient and accept them as they are. If your father, son or grandfather is a veteran you might think about recording an interview with them. You may not think it’s important right now but you’ll learn this is an important opportunity not to be missed.
It’s nice to appreciate their service and honor them. It’s important to thank them for their service—but don’t stop there. Whether it’s your son, daughter, father or mother or grandparent tell them you really want to understand the years they spent in the military. They have a lot of wisdom and experience to teach us.
Wars often bring a conspiracy of silence—those who served often find it challenging, if not impossible to talk about war and they’re greeted by those who would just as soon not know about its painful details. And although you can’t force someone to talk before they’re ready you can be that gentle and non-judgmental listener. It’s an important way to honor the veterans in your life.