by Jennifer Johnson
I am proud to say that I am the granddaughter of military veterans. My maternal grandfather served overseas during the Vietnam War, and my paternal grandfather would have deployed overseas during the Korean War were it not for health and family situations that prevented him. Growing up, year after year, I attended annual Veteran’s Day assemblies at school, yet it never really occurred to me that my grandfathers actually were part of this group that we were honoring. I remember being filled with so much sadness and disappointment with myself on the Veteran’s Day after I graduated from high school when I realized that I had never taken advantage of the opportunity to include my grandfathers in these honorary celebrations. Even more, I realized that I had never even thanked them for their service. I made a choice that day to do more to honor the servicemen and women who have so valiantly served my country. A couple years later, I was working at my retail job one day when a man came through my line wearing a veteran hat. As I rang up the items he was purchasing, I thanked him for his military service. It was just a simple thank you, but this man seemed so touched. Regardless of whether individuals agreed with their country’s involvement in various military conflicts, these men and women around the world deserve our utmost respect. They put their lives on the line to protect and maintain the freedoms that we and others so often take for granted.
So what can we do to better honor veterans and make Veteran’s Day a more special day? Military.com gives some great suggestions:
- Attend a local Veteran’s Day parade or other honorary event. If you cannot find any community events, check with your local schools. They often have Veteran’s Day assemblies and allow the public to attend.
- Donate to an organization that supports veterans. Check out this page if you need ideas of organizations you can help.
- Fly the country’s flag correctly. Having served to defend what that flag represents, most veterans have a great appreciation for when it is respected and flown with pride.
- Talk to a veteran and ask about their service, recognizing that some veterans are going to be more comfortable talking about it than others. Sometimes we hesitate to talk to veterans about their military service because we are afraid of saying the wrong thing or bringing up traumatic memories. Military service is part of who these men and women are, and seeking to understand this part of their story is meaningful to them. If you just use a little common sense and are genuine in your seeking to understand, talking to a veteran should turn out to be a very positive experience for both of you.
- Write a thank you note to a veteran. Upon realizing that I had never thanked my grandfathers for their military service, I wrote a letter to one of them, expressing my gratitude. He was very touched by the letter and said that was the first time one of his grandchildren had thanked him for his service. I was saddened by this lack of expressions of appreciation, but also very glad that I had not just shrugged off the thought to say thank you. We never know how much our expressions of gratitude will mean to these men and women. They sacrificed so much for us and they deserve to be respected and appreciated.
- Spend time with a veteran, whether by volunteering at a VA hospital, taking a veteran out to dinner, or enjoying time in the great outdoors with one. These are people just like us who want to feel loved and that they are important. These would be great opportunities to ask them about their military service, but even if you do not talk about this, just spending time with these men and women to remind them of their value will mean more to them than we probably recognize.
I am deeply grateful for what veterans around the world have done to defend the people of their country. Although my understanding of what these men and women have sacrificed and done on my behalf is limited, I feel I owe it to them to show a little more respect and a little more gratitude. Who’s with me?