Some served out of patriotism. Some served for education. Some served to get themselves out of bad situations, or simply for the job opportunities. And some served because it was just “what you did.”
Some served in peacetime. Some served in wartime. Some served in wartime, but it peaceful settings. Some served on the battlefield, while others served well behind battle lines in support of those under fire.
All are veterans. All are worthy of our praise and respect. But will we always receive that? No, and that too is why we served.
As a military veteran, I often pause on Veterans’ Day to think of my service, my comrades who have slogged through the jungle, flown the long flights, and stood in the freezing cold beside me, those who have faced hardship and sacrificed with me. They were ordinary people, mostly asked to do ordinary things, but always willing and ready for the extraordinary. They were my brothers and sisters, and will always be part of my family.
They weren’t all heroes, and that’s okay.
They weren’t all flawless, and that’s to be expected.
They weren’t all like-minded, and that was a good thing.
And they weren’t all even good at their jobs, and that’s real life.
As we reflect on yet another holiday dedicated to all those who have served, voluntarily or not, with the discounts and special deals offered by so many businesses and establishments in our communities, I all too often hear veterans themselves deride those who protest, those who do not openly thank them for their service. And I become angry also…but not at the protesters, not at the business that do NOT offer veteran discounts, or those for whom this is simply another day. I grow angry at the veterans themselves.
We did not serve for the accolades. We did not serve for glory. And we did not serve to become entitled. Those may come from our service, but those weren’t the reason for it.
We served because we valued selflessness. We served because we valued the bonds of shared sacrifice. And we served because others could not or would not. We served for the ideals of free speech and equality, even when our society hindered it. We served for those unable to protect themselves and without a voice, in hopes that they would someday.
We didn’t serve so that we would have a platform on which to criticize those who didn’t. We didn’t serve so we could preach our superiority over those who choose not to. And we didn’t serve to get free dinners, haircuts, or tickets to a ball game.
So, take advantage of those rewards that come from your military service. Get that free haircut. Watch that free meal. Fly your flag proudly. But don’t do those things because you’ve “earned” them, and don’t criticize those that do not offer either accolades or discounts. Do what you’ve always done. Stand tall and be proud of your service. Remember your own past sacrifices and the ongoing sacrifices of those still serving and still deployed. But don’t expect the praise and don’t deride others who you feel disrespect you and your sacrifice, for that’s the right that led you to serve in the first place.
This Veterans’ Day, don’t look for praise for your service. Look to the reasons FOR your service. And celebrate those reasons. Commend the expressions of those who disagree with you or perhaps even who look down on your service, for those who protest and even for those who burn the flag. For that’s what your service was all about. It was about those others.
At its core, our service is about the other people, whether or not they know it. Our service was not about us. It was about and for them.