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.

2 thoughts on “Remember

  1. This was a very touching tribute, Pat, and it made me realize that I didn’t know the difference, either, between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Thanks for pointing it out. I grew up in the days when Memorial Day (to me) was a day mainly of races and the real day was “Armistice Day” on November 11. Then we were taught about 11/11/1918 at 11 a.m., and seems as if it was many years after WW II before the day was re-named Veterans Day and it became a day to remember those who had died in all wars. Often the young and civilians take service of veterans for granted. Ben seems to be an exception, with his keen awareness of their sacrifices. I guess we have been sensitized by all that has happened since 9/11/2001, and realize now more than ever how much we owe to the men and women who have served and died. Thanks for the blog on the subject.

  2. After going on about the difference, I still got the days mixed up. It will take some getting used to, I guess, to realize that Memorial Day is what I used to think Veterans Day was for, and Veterans Day remembers living veterans. I’ll work on getting this straight in my head.