In a previous post I asked the question “What is your first impression when you hear the word Veteran?” This week I want to expand upon that. Who is a Veteran? What is the first thing we think of when we visualize a Veteran. It will be different for everyone. First I will define Veteran as listed in United States Code 38.
The term “Veteran” means a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.
Feel free to look further into the phrase active military, but for most circumstances, if a person was disabled or died on active duty, regardless of time served, that person is a Veteran. The other requirement is to have been released or discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Just as Memorial Day is to recognize those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to our country, Veterans Day is about reflection and a time to show appreciation or merely say thank you to those who have gone before us.
I was reminded of how Veterans blend into our society this weekend. On my flight to San Antonio, I met an Air Force Veteran. He now works as a pilot for one of the big airlines. His perspective was great; he said most airline captains he has met were always miserable. He has fun trying to make them smile. They get paid to do what they love to do and they aren’t happy. He also added, “And that’s with no one shooting at you.” He misses the Air Force and his time spent working for something more than a paycheck. It was great to share in a few minutes of Veteran chat, like old friends.
Later that night, I was gleaming with pride and admiration as I stood across the street from the USO in downtown San Antonio. It was packed. A Saturday night with many young brothers and sisters playing pool and hanging out. I noticed that it’s located downtown and right next to a Police Department, so I knew it was a safe zone for our young troops and sailors. I felt proud of America providing that place for our troops. I was so pathetic; I wanted to hang with them so badly. I even moseyed over to the door and read the sign stating that it was for active military and retirees if they have room. Being retired, I was aware of that, but since I’m not in need, I didn’t want to take from our troops who replaced me. Of course, I also know nothing is worse than an old 1SG hanging around, except maybe your Mother on a date with you. Feeling like a kid looking into a puppy store, I continued my stroll of beautiful San Antonio. I soon realized that it was the USMC’s 236th Birthday Celebration in town. I must say between the Active duty Marines and their dates, it was a good night for people watching.
Then, as I started to head back to my hotel room, I noticed another Veteran. Sitting alone at a bus stop in a motorized wheel chair was a man wearing a woodland era camouflaged shirt. I estimated he served from 1985-1995, funny how Veterans can tell. As I walked by, we made eye contact, and we nodded at each other and knew that we were brothers. He was trying to get to the bus, so all I saw were his Staff Sergeant stripes and airborne wings. Many Veterans rarely talk to strangers, but we seem to be able to spot fellow Veterans. I hope the nod let him know his service is appreciated.
But it made me think. Here is a Veteran taking the bus alone. Does he feel appreciated? And then I realized, it is that Veteran and others like him – those that sit alone or blend into our society quietly, that Veterans Day is truly for. I am able to still serve at VA. As a Veteran, I am almost like royalty at work. I know from personal experience that the Secretary is a Veteran, 30+% VA employees are Veterans, and that 99% of VA admires and takes care of Veterans. But that Veteran at the bus stop, the Veteran at the airline, they may not share those feelings of royalty.
So this week, this Veterans Day, I ask everyone to identify “your Veteran” and make them feel like royalty. Get out and find “your Veteran.” They are at the nursing homes, the VFW, churches, stores, next door and in your own neighborhood. They are your Mother, Father, Brother or Sister; the quiet lady on her porch, the loud man at the ball game, your co-worker. I keep hearing stories about Korea Veterans that have never been thanked for their service. Let’s use this day to change that. They want to be thanked. It will make them awkward and maybe melt, but thank them anyway; they need it and deserve it. Most Veterans do not know how to accept a thank you, so teach them. They have given so much, thank them for their service. They have some great stories and wisdom to share, we may all learn something about history and about ourselves.
And from me to ALL my fellow Veterans of all eras….. THANK YOU!