Veteran’s Day is this Friday. There will be a smattering of small ceremonies to remember those who fought in our wars, but many who work “banker’s hours” will just see it as a day off work. I’ve long lamented the lack of understanding I’ve witnessed with regards to Veteran’s Day over the years. I admit to being guilty of that lack of understanding as well.
I have many veterans in my family, but none would talk about their service or the need to remember except in their own private way. My Grandfather, whom I never met, created a scrapbook filled with old black and white photos from World War 2 that he would take out from time to time to memorialize his comrades. The remaining pictures are now faded, and the ink is worn off, so my Grandfather’s story is lost to the ages. This saddens me.
My uncle, who died last year, rarely spoke of his time in Vietnam, and he never shared that he had won a Bronze Star while serving overseas. It was only after he died that we learned. His headstone lists his services, but following his last wishes there was no Honor Guard at his funeral. My family’s aversion to speaking of their service meant that we rarely showed our appreciation of said service except to occasionally place wreaths on Grandfather’s grave site on Memorial Day.
Now with the Iraq and Afghan wars so fresh in our minds and hostilities still thriving overseas, it seems that our paying honor to our men and women in the military is making a comeback of sorts. Americans have such a short memory, yet our modern world is forcing us into remembrance.
The UK seems to get this remembrance thing a lot more than we do here in America. Our British allies will memorialize their veterans as well as they call this day Remembrance Day. Veteran’s Day/Remembrance Day was originally called Armistice Day, as it marked the end of The Great War. Since the 20th Century was the bloodiest on record, the day came to mark all men who fought in the battles of the many wars of the past century. When my son and I traveled across the UK this summer, there was not a single town in which we visited that didn’t have some sort of statue or memorial erected with a base covered in red poppy wreaths. These memorials and remembrances were not confined to November 11th. Our visit was in July. Yet we saw red poppy wreaths in London, Plymouth, Wales, and Edinburgh.
London, England, UK.
I know that Americans have a bravado as well as a humility–to show no weakness or need to have these exploits remembered. But the remembrance is for more than these men and women who have served. It is so we, as a people, as a nation, never forget their service, their sacrifice, or the reason they were put in the most horrific of circumstances to begin with. In Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, his protagonist, Paul, queries about what would happen if just one man–his Kaiser– had said no to the war. He laments that one man’s choice impacts the lives of so many farmers, students, and mailmen. These lessons about why we should or should not fight a war, from those who served honorably, are what we must remember and honor this Friday.
This Friday, I send my gratitude to all who have served our country, in war time or in peace. If you have an opportunity, seek out a local VFW or American Legion to find ways to pay honor to our veterans. My son and I will be dropping baked goods by our local VFW as has been our custom the past six or so years. The vets in the room light up to speak to a young man and tell their stories. So join in the remembrance.