Every year we try to acknowledge our Veteran on "his" day. We've made red, white and blue cakes or attended school assemblies to honor Vets. We take advantage of free meals for Veterans at Applebee's or other fine dining establishments. Sometimes I order him a pizza and don't make him eat his vegetables. This year we went to the parade, waved our mini-flags and watched the salutes fly back and forth between our Veteran and the various others that rode by in the parade.
It's all a little cliché, really. Kind of like having a decorated evergreen tree in your living room to celebrate the birth of Christ, a parade or patriotic themed dessert seems a little silly when you're trying to recognize the service of a Veteran. How is any of that meaningful or appropriate for acknowledging the service of someone who went to war for you? War, people. It's like the stuff we watch on TV, only for real. With real guns. They were there.
I suppose we are only human. We do the best we can. We clap and throw parties and say, "Thank you for your service" when we see a Veteran on the street. Sometimes it is corny. Sometimes it might be a tad inadequate or imperfect. But we try. At least once a year, we do our due diligence, dust off our patriotic spirit and put on a good show.
The reality is that Veterans carry their experience with them every day of the year, not just Veterans Day. Not just Memorial Day or the 4th of July.
The lost limb, the trick knee, PTSD, nightmares, headaches, ringing ears, physical scars, insomnia, and the images in their head they would give anything to forget....are there 365 days a year. Everyone's story is a little different but I guarantee you, every Veteran has one. They all have a story, and chances are (unfortunately) you'll never get to hear it because that's how Vets roll.
Oh wait. It's getting a little heavy in here. What happened to finding the joy?
Here's the deal. I know we are all thankful, we all appreciate our Veterans, and if you're like me, you're thanking your lucky stars every day that someone else signed up so YOU didn't have to.
I can't speak for everyone, but most Veterans I know don't want you to put them on a pedestal and call them a hero. They don't need big speeches about dedication and sacrifice, or public recognition in front of large crowds. What they do want is to know that America remembers and appreciates the fact that they went to the frontlines when we stayed home. They want you to respect their service without drawing unnecessary attention to their personal experience which is often an awkward mix of pride and pain.
Just like the card you send your mom on Mother's day....it's never really enough. But we still trek to the Hallmark store or order a bouquet of flowers every year. Because it's the right thing to do.
So even though that $5 American flag shirt seems a little cheesy, pull it out and wear it. Even if it feels awkward to salute a 90 year old guy who looks like he probably doesn't remember much about the war, go ahead and do it. Go to the parade. Eat pancakes at the community breakfast at your local fire station. Wave your little flag. Put red, white, and blue bows on your dog. Whatever floats your boat.
Our local Asphalt Cowboys shoot holes in straw cowboy hats and hand them out to kids along the parade route on Veteran's day. What does any of this really have to do with honoring Veterans?!
I have no idea.
But it's fun. It makes kids and moms and Veterans smile. And in the grand scheme of things, sharing a little joy is really not a bad way to say "Thank you."
Our very happy homecoming. June, 2004.