Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day 2007

This coming Monday, Veterans Day 2007, as we honor those who serve and who have served this country in military uniform, I think it might benefit us all, in our present, difficult circumstances, to reflect on why we set aside time in our busy, often stressful lives to mark the occasion.

First and foremost, it is to express our gratitude to all who have ever served in our army, navy, marines, coast guard and air force, for willingly putting themselves in harm's way, prepared to sacrifice life and limb if called upon to defend this country's freedoms, security and prosperity in armed conflict.

But the day also provides us with an opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the virtues that veterans embody: courage -- theirs and that of their families -- devotion to duty, team spirit, a sense of mission and willingness to defer the easy pleasures of civilian life. These character traits unite veterans of all eras, from World War II's Greatest Generation, to Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War and today the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There is one more virtue that can instruct us all: the ability to persevere through hardships of all kinds.

I don't just mean the supreme hardships that veterans faced in battle, but also those that challenge the returning veteran. It's not uncommon these days to come across a man or woman, in the prime of their youth, who we instantly know has returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, because he or she is wearing a prosthesis in place of a missing arm, hand or leg. And of course there are those who will spend long periods of time recuperating in the nation's veterans' hospitals. For the most grievously hurt, it will be the place they must persevere in spending their entire lives.

Let's also not forget those walking among us with invisible wounds, from an IED explosion survived but with brain trauma, or those with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Many veterans find it difficult to readjust to civilian life; for some, what should be a return home and a normal life instead is the start of a downward spiral that, if there's no help, often ends in drug addiction, mental illness, homelessness and death on the streets. 25% of America's homeless population consists of veterans, mostly from Vietnam and the first Gulf War, but even already several hundred from Iraq and Afghanistan. The proportion of homeless veterans from all eras is more than double the 11% share of the general population that all veterans make up.

This coming Monday, should you be so lucky as to meet a veteran, extend a hand in gratitude. Should you be moved to help veterans through volunteer work, do it. Should the day offer a chance to participate in a Veterans' Day ceremony, even if it's only on TV, join in. Just connecting with the spirit of the occasion can give us perspective on our own daily battles and reignite the courage to persevere.

Have a safe holiday.


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