The mood was somber as our group walked into the Ardennes Forest outside Bastogne, Belgium. Thirteen WWII Veterans ages 89 to 96 and their escorts joined the multiple natural pathways intertwined among the preserved foxholes American troops had dug during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge. Bob, a WWII Marine Veteran who served in the Pacific Theater as well as Korea and Vietnam, stopped at the lone two-man foxhole. Slowly he straightened to attention, raised his right hand into a perfect salute, and stood motionless for nearly a minute. As he lowered his salute, his shoulders slumped and he nearly fell. I hustled to his side and physically supported him. I asked, “How are you doing Mr. Bob?” Bob wiped a tear from his eye and said, “I had to come and see where my high school friends had fought. I think they may have had it worse than me hitting the island beaches. Now, I may be able to start healing.” A moment of silence, a salute of honor, a tear of remembrance, and a show of respect; a chance to heal after 70 years. This Trip of Honor organized by Diane Hight and her Forever Young Veterans Organization was achieving its motto: Honor, Healing and Hope.
Veterans Day. A day set aside for America to pause and honor all who have served in the five military services of our great nation: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Initially established as Armistice Day celebrating the official signing of the documents to end WWI, Congress changed the name to Veterans Day in 1954 and widened its scope to honor all veterans. As our military has been downsized over the last many years, this national holiday has gained even more importance to our nation.
According to government records, about 0.5% of Americans currently serve in the military and only around 7% have ever served. Less and less Americans are coming into contact with active duty or veterans; thus the so-called ‘Civilian/Military Divide’ is growing, especially among young adults and youth. Today we can take the opportunity to learn more about veterans—their dedication, commitment, and service to the defense of the freedoms we enjoy daily. At celebrations, restaurants, outings, and stores, veterans from all walks of life will have donned their military service caps, vests or uniforms to honor all with whom they have served as comrades in arms. If you will ask about their service, you will hear stories of great joy, great sorrow, and lasting friendships. You will hear of heroes—never themselves but those with whom they served. From this personal contact, you will know better the soul of the American soldier, sailor, airman, or marine.
Honor, Healing, Hope. Being a volunteer for Forever Young Veterans and the VA Hospital, I have the privilege of interacting with veterans of all ages, races, wars, and peacetime service. Many struggle with physical or mental injuries from their service. They seek and need the human healing touch, whether it be professional or just the ear of one who cares enough to listen. The one thing I have learned is they are proud of their service to America, whether three years or thirty years, in war or peace.
As we pause to honor our veterans on this Veterans Day, we too must remember those service members who cannot pause—they are presently in harms way in many countries outside our borders. They carry on the legacy of all who have proudly worn the uniform of our nation—defending the cause of freedom wherever it is challenged.
Tomorrow we will move back into our daily routines; but before we do, let us reflect on the words of Corporal Kyle Carpenter, Medal of Honor recipient from the war in Afghanistan. He has endured years of surgeries and recovery from serious wounds after jumping on a live grenade to save fellow Marines. When someone thanks him for his service he replies, “You are worth it.” Honor the American Veteran, and know they served and sacrificed for you because “you are worth it.”