Are veterans the heroes who keep on giving?
I’m not complaining, but after 23 years of column writing, it becomes increasingly challenging to find new angles for recurring events such as Mother’s Day or Memorial Day.
So, when it came time to write about Veterans Day (again), I sought inspiration by calling a dear friend who served as a track mechanic during the Vietnam War.
Larry said he has good memories of military service and genuinely appreciates what the Veterans Administration hospital system does for him now, but he didn’t feel he had anything particularly profound to share with his peers or with non-veterans.
A dud of an angle for a Veterans Day essay? Not necessarily.
A few days after my conversation with Larry, I abruptly switched gears and shifted my thoughts to all the things Larry has done (involving family, church and work) in the more than four decades SINCE he was a staff sergeant.
Don’t get me wrong. Veterans Day should still be an occasion when a grateful nation organizes parades, delivers speeches and offers business discounts for those who defended our republic. We should always commemorate that brief-but-intense time in veterans’ lives when they were dodging bullets, patching up wounds or solving logistical nightmares.
And, of course, we should continue to care about the mental health of those whose lives were shattered by their wartime experiences.
But we should also take time to acknowledge the post-military accomplishments of those who make a successful transition back into civilian life. These are the men and women who take the self-respect, discipline, widened horizons, teamwork and technical skills honed by the military and use them to benefit their communities.
We don’t always draw a connection with their military background, but these people go on to become good parents, good neighbors, good bosses, good co-workers, good citizens.
Think how much poorer society would be without these veterans coaching youth sports teams, coordinating fundraisers, serving on boards (industrial, school, library), organizing neighborhood watches and just generally making life better for the rest of us.
Some veterans may become paradigm-changing entrepreneurs or deep-pocketed philanthropists. But even the most humble still have something to offer long after they can no longer fit into their old uniform.
True, veterans who serve only a single tour of duty will likely have many more years for a productive civilian life than do career military personnel. But the careerists can earn double honors. Their well-deserved retirement years don’t have to be limited to sitting in a rocking chair, reminiscing. Retirement can be a rich time of mentoring, volunteerism and leadership.
It can be monotonous to spend 365 days a year constantly reminding veterans of what they did in Germany, the South Pacific, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf or Afghanistan; but avail yourself of every opportunity to recognize veterans for what they’re doing now.
If a veteran goes the extra mile for you on a loan approval, helps your child secure a scholarship, spearheads a “downtown beautification” campaign, saves your company a bundle with some ingenious workaround or changes your flat tire, be sure to show your appreciation.
Veterans should not be frozen in amber. Yes, they have a past, but they also have a present and a future.
Thanks, Larry, for serving your country by traveling half a world away from home. But thanks even more for all the lives you’ve touched since then.
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”