Sometimes I think we miss the point with holidays. Amid the songs and ceremony, as kids play video games on their day off from school, how much time do we actively take to support those for whom the day is named? Veteran’s Day always had a special place in my family. Growing up as the grandson of four World War II veterans, I heard their stories, from my Grandpa Carlton storming Omaha Beach to the simple enjoyment his wife got out of riding a trolley for the first time when her med unit prepared to ship out of San Francisco.
Then as my friends and I grew up, I saw many of them ship out as National Guardsmen and Marines, to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. They came back from multiple tours of duty with their own stories to tell, of the suspect they were able to capture because he didn’t recognize the gunfire was real outside his bunker and not the Xbox game he was playing. Or their first experience with a sandstorm, of which the remnants still existed days later, while some of their gear was never seen again.
One thing stuck with me though, with both generations. What mattered to each and every one wasn’t a clean bed or the idea that tomorrow’s meal might be something other than field rations. Each one fought to protect their families. Hearing from home how neighbors, friends or even strangers banded together to care for their loved ones, meant more than the best meal on the planet. Sure, cards are nice and ceremonies are great, but it’s hard to enjoy that medal when Dad’s on the battlefield and a storm tears shingles off the roof back home, and the family has no money to buy supplies or tools to do the work.
“What you do buys a lot more than what you say, ” I heard time and again from my grandfather, and it certainly applies in this case. We can hold grand ceremonies and write beautiful speeches, talking about the importance our society places on veterans, especially on their holiday.
But in a few minutes, the ceremony is over, the speech has ended and barring a recording, that image will fade, in time. The needs of the veterans and their families, however, remain. That family’s roof you reshingle and those extra groceries you provide will have just as much impact as the best speech ever written, if not more. We want to thank veterans for their service? While they’re away and also when they return home, we as a community can do more through a helping hand than just a card in the mail.