(Photo courtesy of Presidio of Monterey: DLIFLC & USAG’s photostream on Flickr.com.)
Here we are at Veteran’s Day, one of those holidays that no one really knows what to do with.
It’s not lashed to a weekend, so nobody ever makes elaborate Veteran’s Day holiday plans. There aren’t any massive mattress or appliance Veteran’s Day sales. I’m guessing that a school kid wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about the day.
But I hope you won’t let the day slip by without talking to a veteran. At first glance, that may seem like a challenge — for all of the lip service this country pays to honoring those who’ve served, we’re remarkably ignorant about these men and women among us. They always seem to be someone else’s niece, or that uncle you used to see at family gatherings, or the rough-edged boss who never revealed anything about his past.
But with a little effort, you’ll find that they’re all around you. With rare exceptions, they’re remarkably reticent about recounting their experiences. Some of that reluctance may stem from whatever wartime torments they endured — a noble belief that no one in the civilian world should be exposed to the grand guignol horror show that they starred in.
Some veterans operate under the assumption that since they never found themselves in combat, their service is somehow less worthy of attention, of honor. The tragedy of this worldview is that it totally negates the sacrifices that were their everyday existence.
See if you can coax the stories out of a veteran. With a few carefully chosen questions, you can obtain a front row seat on the events that have shaped our country. A lot of these men and women have been waiting for years for someone, anyone, to ask them.
Make this effort, and I promise you’ll be rewarded in a profound way. If you’re a veteran, resolve to share your story with someone — in this season of Thanksgiving, this country needs to be reminded of the price that is paid for our blessings.
The Fontana Regional Library System has several works to ensure that our veterans can be remembered throughout the year — from novels like Stephen Crane’s moving Red Badge of Courage to Dalton Trumbo’s devastating Johnny Got His Gun. There are also the oral histories Long Hard Road : American POWs During World War II by Thomas Saylor, Forever a Soldier : Unforgettable Stories of Wartime Service, edited by Tom Wiener, and Voices of War : Stories of Service from the Home Front and the Front Lines by the Veterans History Project.
And let’s all spare a thought for those who are serving our country right now, whether here at home or stationed in a war zone or some forgotten corner of the world.