Today, the United States and many other countries honor their military veterans. What began as a commemoration of the end of the Great War became a time to honor all veterans when it turned out that “the war to end all wars” sadly was not.
When I was growing up, it seemed that most of the men I knew were veterans. My dad served as a SeaBee ( US Navy Construction Battalion) in both World War II and the Korean Conflict. Because WWII involved so many people, most of my friends’ fathers and uncles had served, too. There were a few women who had served as well, but there were not many opportunities for them in the military at that time. Perhaps because so many had served, these veterans did not tend to talk much about their service, choosing instead to just about building their peacetime lives.
I also knew some Vietnam vets. In my rural area, the Vietnam vets were treated respectfully, but sadly we saw on the news that in other places they were unjustly vilified for an unpopular war. When I was a child, the draft was still ongoing, which led some men to become teachers solely to escape being drafted, as teaching was a protected profession. While some went on to become fine teachers, some of these men should never have become teachers and did a poor job of it for thirty years until they could retire. I have experienced this legacy as both a student and a parent.
The US military has been all-volunteer for the last several decades. In contrast to my dad’s generation when a large percentage of young adult males served in the military, now only a tiny percentage of eligible men and women serve. I can count on my fingers the number of people I know from our circle of friends, neighbors, and my spouse’s co-workers who are currently serving, including a high-school classmate of my daughter’s – and daughter of one of my husband’s co-workers – who was a top-ranked cadet at West Point. Meanwhile, the strains of thirteen years of war have fallen on a small number of military personnel, including National Guard troops, and their families. I don’t have an answer for this problem, but it does – or should – weigh heavily on the national consciousness and conscience.
Today, I’ll be celebrating at a lunch with my dad at a local restaurant that is honoring vets with a free meal to thank them for their service. It’s ironic that after decades of not making a big deal about their military service that so much recognition has more recently come to the veterans of World War II. My dad often wears a SeaBee cap when he goes out and receives thanks from passersby or fellow store customers. Once his cap even led to a pay it forward situation.
The ranks of World War II veterans have thinned considerably with time. With so few people currently serving in the military, in seventy years there will be hardly any veterans my dad’s age.
He will turn ninety in March.
I wish peace, security, respect, and good health to all veterans, in the US and around the world. Thank you for your service.