Coming from a retired Army non-commissioned officer who wore a green beret and a drill sergeant hat, it may seem weird, but I don’t look forward to Veterans Day. However, there was a time that I got excited about this holiday.
Growing up in small town USA certain holidays were big deals, it meant we’d have a parade. Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day brought the community together and honored our nation and its heroes. Not growing up in a military family, my parents made sure we attended these events. I believe it was a large part of my desire to be a soldier from a young age. I would see the old American Legion veterans marching in their uniforms and standing proud through speeches made by local leaders. I’m certain these old veteran’s dedication had an impact on many youth, not just me.
Nov. 11 was a special day for me when I didn’t understand the cost of freedom and service. I was too young to realize that we were honoring these veterans because they chose to put themselves through hardship on our behalf. It was more than a cool factor and an aura of professionalism.
Now, I don’t have the same sentiment toward Veterans Day. It’s one of those days that makes me feel uncomfortable. Memorial Day, the official day to remember our fallen, is another one.
While well-meaning Americans reach out to shake my hand and say thank you for my service, I feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure what they’re thanking me for. Additionally, I don’t feel a need to be thanked for my service. It was my choice to serve and I wouldn’t have changed that for the world. Aside from being a father, serving this great nation is the biggest honor I’ve ever had.
Yes, this may get uncomfortable. With this discomfort we can grow. I wonder what people are thanking me for. For following my dreams? Again, it’s what I always wanted to do. I got to live out my dreams. For signing up when they didn’t? It’s okay, I made my choices and they made theirs, no animosity. The military isn’t for everybody. For making it home when others didn’t? We don’t get to pick and choose who survives. I’m lucky to have served with the most outstanding people on earth who sacrificed their lives so that we may live ours. Are they thanking me because they feel societal pressure to acknowledge my service? I always assume positive intent, but I’m a realist that knows the world isn’t all roses and rainbows.
The reality is I think of my service every day of the year. Sometimes with a smile and other days with tears for brothers who are no longer with us. I’m proud to have served and not a day will go by that changes that feeling.
I appreciate the recognition of my service on this special day and I’ll answer like I normally do when I’m thanked. “No need to thank me. It was my privilege to serve and if I had a choice, I’d do it all over again.” However, like a lot of veterans, this day will give me mixed emotions.