Tomorrow is Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in Canada, one day set aside each year to show appreciation for our service people and the other to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
For many of us, war is a phenomenon glimpsed only through the lens of a TV camera or a journalist’s account of fighting in distant parts of the world. That’s obviously not true for those soldiers who die in the line of duty and certainly not so for veterans who live with the wars they’ve fought for the duration of their lives.
I don’t want to confuse the two days, because each is equally important. Remembering the courage and sacrifice of those killed in battle is something we should all take the time to do, not just on Remembrance Day, but year-round. I just happen to believe the best way to honor our war dead is to reach out to our war veterans.
There are currently around 19.6 million veterans in the U.S. and over 685,000 in Canada. By making some time for them – on November 11 and beyond – we’re recognizing the hardships and fears they’ve taken upon themselves so the rest of us can live in peace – and we’re honoring the lives of those no longer with us. As the daughter and sister of veterans, I can tell you that few things mean more to most vets than gestures of gratitude for what they’ve done – and by that I mean not just “thank yous,” but real action that can be far more meaningful than words. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:
Make the time and make it personal. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a veteran and get to know him or her by sharing experiences. Every vet has a unique story. Their military service has unquestionably shaped them in profound ways, and you can learn a lot from what they might be willing to share.
How do you do this? One way to start is by finding out what the policies are at your nearest VA hospital for interacting with patients or volunteering, and spend some time with a veteran who might be sick or injured. Often you don’t have to say anything, just taking the time to listen to what they have to say can be enough. Trust me, most vets want and need to share. Unfortunately, there’s a wide cultural gap between civilians who have no relationship with the Armed Forces and those who’ve served their country. Closing that gap is as necessary as it is long overdue for both us and them. You can help by letting them know they matter.
Make an effort to help veterans’ families. War can wrack entire families. The family members of today’s soldiers have endured unprecedented multiple deployments during two wars lasting more than a decade. This can mean significant emotional stress for relatives. Though it might be difficult for many of us to understand, many soldiers fight their biggest battles once they’ve returned home – and that can cause a whole different kind of stress for loved ones who choose to care for them.
Many military families express a need to be understood and supported by those whose lives have nothing to do with the military. Take a look around your community to see who your military families are and how they’ve been impacted by their loved one’s service. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Invite them over for a meal or out for dinner. Offer to run errands for them or to help with chores around the house. Letting them know you care can mean everything to them – and to the veterans they love.
Make a donation or support a veteran’s program. There are no shortage of charitable organizations and causes that offer all kinds of support and services for veterans – so why not pick one to support, even if it’s just once a year. I make regular donations to Disabled American Veterans (DAV) in memory of my father and brother, and I’ve been a supporter of the Gary Sinise Foundation for veterans since its inception. Helping those who’ve served who need assistance can be a rewarding way to show that you care and a fitting way to remember those who served who are no longer with us.
These are just a few rather obvious suggestions. I’m sure each of you can come up with your own unique way to recognize and show respect for those who have put our countries, values and safety first. I really think it’s worth the effort. After all our veterans have done, it seems the least we can do.