Yesterday, my friend Keith asked me whether I had to work today. “Um, yes,” I said. “Why would I have the day off?”
“It’s Veterans Day,” he replied. “Oh,” I mumbled, looking at my feet. “I, uh, forgot.”
How embarrassing. Admitting that I had forgotten Veterans Day would be a faux pas no matter when I did it or who I was talking to. But it’s particularly shameful in this instance, because I did it in wartime, during some of the fiercest fighting we’ve yet seen. And because I was talking to Keith, who served in the Air Force for nine years. He didn’t even react to my blunder. I’m sure he’s grown accustomed to such thoughtlessness on the part of lifelong civilians like me.
Actually, I was vaguely aware that Veterans Day was approaching, but I hadn’t really given it much thought. I don’t get the day off, so I wasn’t concerned with the exact date — it was just another workday to me. I assumed that it was probably on a Monday, like Memorial Day and Labor Day. But that’s wrong.
I realized that I didn’t even really understand the distinction between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Aren’t they basically the same? I looked them up in Wikipedia, and learned that I was wrong about that too. Veterans Day is a time for honoring living Americans who served in the military. Memorial Day commemorates those who died in military service. How is it that I never knew this? Well, it’s obvious: I never made the effort to find out until now.
As I read these Wikipedia articles, I was struck by something else about these two days: how little they ask of us. Unlike most of our other holidays, Veterans Day and Memorial Day don’t require us to spend our time and money on elaborate observances. We’re not expected to put up decorations (except the flag, of course), or host parties, or give gifts to the veterans we know, or send Veterans Day cards. We don’t have to stock up on candy, or wear costumes, or set off fireworks.
These holidays only ask us to do one thing: remember. Remember our fellow citizens who have put on uniforms and taken up arms to keep us safe. Remember their sacrifices. Remember those who have put their civilian lives on hold for months or years, or even devoted their entire careers to military service. And, of course, remember those who were wounded or killed in the line of duty.
It doesn’t take much time — less than trick-or-treating, or addressing and mailing Christmas cards. And it doesn’t cost any money at all. All that is required of us is that we stop thinking about ourselves for a moment or two and acknowledge what veterans did for us. Not very difficult, is it?
Fortunately, not everyone is as remiss as I am at recognizing our vets. Mackubin Thomas Owens does the job properly in his essay: Where Do We Find Such Men? And Zell Miller, in his keynote speech at this year’s Republican National Convention, said it even more succinctly:
It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom he abuses to burn that flag.
I can add nothing to these tributes except to say to Keith — and my father, who served in the Army — and every other American military vet: thank you. You haven’t been forgotten.