What is a Veteran?
I am proud to be able to say that I am a Veteran. I served in the US Navy Reserves for nearly twelve years, flying aboard a P-3 Orion hunting down Russian subs during the Cold War. But no one was shooting at me like they are the Reserves and National Guard of today. Those folks are in the thick of it over there, so I place an asterisk beside the word “Veteran” when I associate it with my service.
To me, a real Veteran is someone who strapped on a helmet, grabbed an automatic weapon, and stood between my family and all those who would harm them. Some real Veterans aren't even Veterans yet, as they continue to this day to stand vigil and protect us from some seriously evil bastards.
… and I thank God for them.
I remember a time in this country when, in a fit of national mass insanity, people spit on those in uniform. They jeered them and mocked them, and went out of their way to spew their venom. Criminals were treated better. I never understood why the very people our military folks protected would do such vile and heinous things. As soldiers, they were simply doing their duty, following their orders, and honoring their vow to “… defend The Constitution against all enemies….”
Fast-forward forty-five years. 9/11 changed all that. Men and women enlisted as they did in 1941. Sneak attacks on America really piss us off. They unite us, solidify us, and make us one. I am heartened to see that those shameful behaviors of the Viet Nam era are no more, replaced now by sincere standing ovations in airports and handshakes on the streets and choruses of “Thank You” in stores and restaurants and taverns. Veterans are revered now as they should be. The nod of a head, a wink, a smile, a simple wave from a stranger says so much more to those in uniform than the act itself, and it’s the Veteran whose heart smiles because of it.
A few years back I read a piece written by a gal named Linda Ellis, a renowned poet. I didn’t know her at the time, but as Fate would have it, she and my wife Maggie were best friends in school. I met Linda this past summer, and on this Veteran’s Day her poem came back to me. It brought me to tears when I read it then, so I asked her if I might use it here, on this Veteran’s Day, to honor those Vets and Vets-to-be on a day when all should pay homage.
I think this says it best.
Mommy, What is a Veteran?
"Mommy, what is a veteran?"
my child asked in an innocent way
"and could you please explain to me
My mind searched for the adjectives
that might help me clarify
those people, who for their country
have looked death in the eye.
I quickly grabbed the dictionary
to see what Webster may have used
but "one who served in the armed forces"
were not the words that I would choose.
But, how do you describe a veteran —soldiers you have never met,
those you'll never know the names of
and yet ... never will forget?
How do you describe a veteran?
How do you convey a definition
for those who brought this country's dreams
to their ultimate fruition?
strangers who fought for you,
men and women who risked their lives
for people they never knew?
and the sacrifices they made
so that you and your children's children
could live free ... and unafraid?
How do you describe a veteran—
for a child's sake?
You say "a veteran is a person to whom
we owe every breath we take."
If you’re lucky enough to encounter a Veteran or active duty military member, tell them Thank You!
… Then buy ‘em a beer.
They, above all, have earned it.
With great reverence, Happy Veteran’s Day to all who fought, and all who fight.
You're an American Vet.
You're an American Vet.
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Mommy, What is a Veteran? Copyright 1998 by Linda EllisReprinted here with consent of author.
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