I have always been a staunch supporter of our military. While I have personally never served, I have several family members who have and I cherish the fact that they were among the lucky ones to physically survive. I make sure I do all that I can to support our military, those who are currently serving as well as those who are veterans. It is disheartening that as Veterans Day approaches, so many fail to recognize the importance that our military plays in our lives.
In recent years, the latest trend in education has included the removal of Veterans Day as a holiday for Pre-K to 12 students. A local school district in Northern Illinois claimed that the removal of that day off from school was due to the fact that students did not seem to appreciate or understand why they were getting the day off. To this day, I find that the fact that Veterans Day is not celebrated as a day off in public schools to be highly disgraceful and abhorrent. If school officials feel that students are not appreciating the meaning behind the day off, then as educators, maybe they should spend less time on test prep for NCLB and more on substantive material, such as the importance of supporting our troops. Clearly those who make these decisions have no connection with the military and the sacrifices that our servicemen and servicewomen make. It is not simply the physical sacrifice of placing oneself in harm’s way but the psychological and family sacrifices as well. Military families suffer tremendously as their loved ones are deployed around the world. The separation takes its toll on the spousal relationship as well as the parental relationship. In addition, when our troops come home, their biggest challenge awaits in trying to return to “normal” whatever “normal” is. The expectation is that our servicemen and servicewomen will be able to handle the transition back without any difficulty but that is so far from the reality of what our brave soldiers experience. Our military sacrifice their souls for their country and in return they come home to often high unemployment, stigma over potential mental health issues such as depression and PTSD, among other challenges. Unless you have personally been in a battle zone, there is no possible way you could understand how that changes a person and with so much emphasis on our soldiers being strong and resilient, asking for help has become a major taboo.
I will never forget the first time that I visited Washington, D.C. I was 21 years old and attending a conference over Memorial Day weekend. I drove from Chicago to D.C. in one day and after checking into my hotel, I immediately took the metro to see the Vietnam Wall War Memorial. Seeing the war memorials was indeed my top priority outside of my conference responsibilities. I will never forget that evening as I walked to the Vietnam Wall. I passed so many veterans, clearly homeless and begging and my heart broke. In them, I saw the faces of the comrades that my relatives who had served spoke of. As I approached the wall and began looking at all of the names and looked around at others who were visiting, people dropping off flowers and stuffed animals. I began to cry, overwhelmed by how many made the sacrifice and for how many survived their sacrifice but were not listed and perhaps were sitting in the cold on the streets around the country. I watched others walk quickly by the homeless veterans, not even looking at them, as if they were not there. As if these veterans were not even human. My heart broke that day and I felt like I had aged years in a matter of hours. As night fell, I began my trek back to the hotel, only having spent time at the wall, too overwhelmed to see the other memorials. The next day, after my presentation, I headed to Arlington National Cemetery and spent the afternoon walking around, taking in all of the tombstones, all decorated with flags for Memorial Day. As I watched the change of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I cried again. I walked back to the Vietnam Wall and as I crossed the Potomac, I saw how the wall really did appear to be a scar on the earth, a reminder of the wounds that our country suffered at the hands of war. I visited the Korean War Memorial and saw more homeless veterans. I gave them what I could afford and headed back to the hotel after thanking them for their service and sacrifice. I wondered how many people did such a thing. I visited Washington, D.C. frequently over the next decade depending upon how close I lived to the area and have always taken that walk to the war memorials. My last visit was after the World War II Memorial had been completed and I took so many pictures to share with my grandfather, a WWII veteran. I shared those photos with his friends at his local VFW post as well as the pictures I had taken from earlier visits. As hard as it is on me every time I visit those memorials, I feel like it is the very least I can do to honor those who have sacrificed so much.
I try to make sure I take time to speak to veterans, to know that I appreciate their sacrifices, to know that someone cares how they are currently doing and not just wanting the gory details of what they have seen and survived. I want them to know that they matter and I truly feel that it is imperative that we keep the Veterans Day holiday in the forefront as a way to show our veterans how much they matter to us, because they have done what we did not do, regardless of our reasons. They put their lives on the line for us and the least we can do is thank them for all they have done.
It breaks my heart that our education system cannot allow for time to discuss our brave military, have the students write cards or letters to our deployed and our recovering veterans. We distract ourselves with the latest television show, celebrity gossip, and technological advances while ignoring those that made all of this possible. It is because of the sacrifices of our military that we enjoy the freedom and security that we currently experience. So let’s take our heads out of our secure little bubbles and take some time to appreciate those who sacrifice so much for us. There are so many wonderful organizations out there that help support our troops, whether they are veterans or actively deployed. It does not take much to show our military that we care about them and thank them for the sacrifices that they make. See my favorite links page for some links to a few of the amazing organizations out there.
To our military who are currently enlisted and our veterans, thank you so very much for all that you have sacrificed for our freedom and security. You matter more than you may realize even to those who you have not met and may never meet. Stay safe and be well brave men and women of the armed forces.