USAF Veteran – what Thanksgiving means to me

“The kindness and compassion caring for our Veterans”


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The name of the holiday – Thanksgiving – should be self-explanatory and sufficient.

Even in the midst of the most serious global health crisis in more than a century, there is much for which to be thankful, even if it seems to be overshadowed by the stress and strain of daily life.

The last Thursday in November gets the credit as Thanksgiving Day, but really it’s just the calendar celebration of a 365-day scorecard of appreciation. Like many others, I sometimes have to step back and remind myself of that.

I work for VA, now as a webmaster after almost two years as a public affairs specialist at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. From day one, it was easy to see the kindness, compassion – along with professionalism and excellence – that went into caring for our Veterans on a daily basis.

Hoehn in Air Force days

Not done for accolades

It isn’t done for accolades or recognition. It’s simply what they do – they being staff, employees, and volunteers. That observation might sound phony or trite, but it’s what I believe.

Sometimes you just need to slow down long enough to say thank you.

I recently tracked down three mentors from my long-ago Air Force days who I have come to realize made a significant difference in my life.

They were not my group of same-age squadron friends, but rather two supervisors and a sports teammate – all slightly older than me and each of different race or ethnicity from the other, not that it ever mattered.

“I wanted to thank them”

The reason behind my online search effort was simple – I wanted to thank them for always taking the time to talk and teach about what the late author Dan Jenkins would call “Life Its Ownself.”

I left messages for two of them at what I hoped were the correct phone numbers, and each eventually returned the call. The third’s wife answered and overcame her suspicions of a telemarketing scam and handed the phone to her husband.

Despite almost four decades since my last conversation with any of them, I immediately recognized those wonderful voices. They were truly astonished to hear from me, but even more so when I thanked them for their kindness, caring and friendship – and the impact they never realized they had.

I think they appreciated knowing that and I’m glad I had the opportunity to thank them.

After a Thanksgiving that is likely to be much different than any other in recent memory, Friday will be the start of the next 365-day scorecard.

Four decades from now, somebody might thank you for what you did that day.


James Hoehn is the webmaster for VA’s Veterans Integrated Service Network 19 (VISN 19).

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