Take a Moment to Truly Honor the Veterans
By Dr. Robert “Smitty” Smith, faculty member at American Military University
Veterans Day is upon us—only 43 shopping days left until Christmas! The parades and memorial ceremonies are sparsely attended and get brief attention in the news, while hordes of shoppers respond to wall-to-wall TV and radio advertising. For many, this is what the holiday has turned into: A day that invites the frenzy of consumerism with massive sales and a federal holiday to allow people the time to shop. Worse yet, Veterans Day—unlike Memorial Day when we can swim and barbecue—reminds us that winter and death is upon us. It’s so very dreary.
Upon realizing my unhappiness at what this day has become, I chose to reflect with my family brain trust. At the table with me was my great-grandfather, wounded in the American Civil War; my grandfather, gassed several times and wounded in World War I (whose wound certificate below reflects a somberness the Purple Heart struggles to replicate); my late father who served in World War II; his brother who was KIA supporting the Normandy breakout, Operation Cobra, in his A-20 attack bomber; and the latest generation, thankfully still with us, my youngest son, with his Combat Infantryman Badge from Afghanistan.
We all decided that missing from today’s holiday is widespread remembrance, the giving of thanks to those who paid the price with their lives, broken bodies, and pained minds. Also missing is the publicly expressed desire that their sacrifices bear the fruit they fought for: peace and prosperity for all.
In Europe, Canada, and Australia, the people all remember—they wear poppies on their lapels, they pause to reflect. Too few Americans take even a moment to contemplate; too many go to the mall and shop.
[Related Article: A Message to Veterans, From Veterans]
Like an old man, I recall Armistice Day, that in the eleventh hour of the eleventh day we honored those who by striding with their frail, mortal bodies into the gates of Hell itself, endeavored to bring forth the promise of a better world. We honored them by that moment of silence—in schools, churches, banks—everywhere. People understood that while it was inspired by the ending of World War I, it symbolized remembering all who had gone before us to protect the flame of liberty and the nest of democracy.
Our failure to honor our sacred dead in a meaningful way is a breach of faith, and perhaps a telling sign to those who may need to be our future legions on distant frontiers, that the value of those sacrifices may be trivialized rather than respected.
Too often today, the Unknown Soldier is not just unidentified but unmourned. Does anyone anymore truly measure the debt to those who have gone before us? Few are brave enough to observe their duty, their obligation to others’ noble sacrifices.
But there are those who will keep faith in our hearts and in our households, thanking profusely those who left bloody footprints in the mud and snow, carrying the burden before we picked up the rifle and joined them on the frontiers. In an age where new and grave threats to individual and religious freedom would attack our cherished way of life, there is always a cost to be borne.
Our fondest wish is this: That there will be no veterans of future wars—not because all shall have perished but because all shall have learned to live together in blissful peace. Perhaps if we take the time to remember the spirit behind Armistice Day, and its cost, then perhaps that memory will spur us on to seek peace, for we now know its toll.
About the Author: LTC Robert G. Smith has served as an armor officer, logistician, military intelligence and engineer officer. He is a graduate of the Armor Basic Course, the Armor Advanced Course, Command and General Staff College and Army Combined Arms Staff College and the Advanced Joint Professional Military Course in Joint Warfare.
After 9/11 he was recalled to active duty, serving as the lead Army military historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History for the attack on the Pentagon. He has subsequently served as the V Corps historian for the initial invasion of Iraq and in the Deputy Directorate of Special Operation (DDSO) on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While on the DDSO he wrote a highly classified study on SOF in the Global War on Terror. Among his awards are the Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal and Combat Action Badge. He is currently a faculty member at American Military University, teaching courses in intelligence, national security and military science studies. He received the university’s 2014 Faculty Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award.