Whether you watched a parade, played with toy soldiers, or just spent hours being totally lazy, the focus all over the everyplace today was on our nation's veterans. One of my favorite veterans was my Papaw, although of course I didn't know that until it was too late.
For most of my childhood, my favorite thing about my Pawpaw was simply that he was married to my Mawmaw. She was a force in my life, someone I adored and learned from and read with. She wasn't perfect, but she was everything that could be wonderful about a human, and it was all that wonderfulness that extended itself as well to my Pawpaw.
It's crazy to look back and remember how my Pawpaw talked about his veteran buddies on the ham radio to whoever would listen, he attended all those reunions with his crew mates (he was Navy), and he had several of those hats embroidered with the ship names and numbers. I rode to the commissaries in Mississippi or Pensacola with my grandparents several times, and more than once we stopped along the way so that he could visit with one of his old navy buddies.
Y'all, he was involved with so many Very Big Navy-Related Things. He was at Iwo Jima the moment of the famous flag-raising. Yet, the reality and heaviness of that never dawned on me until I was reading a World War II story to some third graders, several years after he was gone.
Wanna know what I am reminded of every single year on Veterans Day? The regret of not listening to his stories, not understanding how his wartime experiences changed him as a person, not really getting why his past military life still seemed to be such a big part of his present/retired life.
Have mercy on me, people. I was but a thick-headed teenager.
My Pawpaw is gone now. I can't call him up or sit across from him at my aunt's on Thanksgiving to soak up all his stories. But I think if he was and we could have an honest conversation about America's veterans, I think he'd agree with me on these five ways to truly honor them:
- Think about the meaning of their service to this country beyond Veterans Day
Posting our flag pics and links to news articles about veterans on November 11th is a good way to honor our veterans by remembering them. But they might feel even more special if we made regular recognition a part of our habits.
- Listen to their stories
Veterans are all around us. They are all ages and races and are both female and male. Some of them have mild stories to tell, and others have harrowing stories to tell about everything from boot camp to napalm. Some don't want to talk about it, but for those that do? We should honor them by listening.
- Respect their role in America's history and future
Politics have no place in whether or how we honor our nation's veterans.
- Understand that what they have seen and heard as they served in the US military is a big part of who they are
Reading this book changed so much about how I understood veterans, especially those who were at any point prisoners of war
- Tell them how much you appreciate their sacrifices
Veterans are moms who left their babies and they're teenaged boys who left their mamas. They are your friend at work and that sweet little old lady who sits behind you in church. And even though they are all unique, the one thing they share in common is that at some point they put their country's needs before their own (or their family's), and oftentimes with physical, emotional, and mental consequences.
Looking for a great vet-related read? Lauren Hillenbrand's Unbroken is by far one of my favorite books of all time. The movie version comes out in theaters soon, but there's no way all the details will make the cut. Do yourself, and a veteran, a favor and buy this book!