VETERAN'S DAY TO A VETERAN
I am a 12-year veteran of the military, and an Army veteran of the first Gulf War (the one that had a real mission, remember?). I won't pretend to speak for all veterans, or even many veterans, but I'll speak for this veteran, and i'll bet I'm not alone in my sentiments.
What does Veteran's Day mean to a veteran? Well, that depends on the veteran's experiences and his age. A young veteran who recently left the military with little time in uniform probably enjoys the festivities of Veteran's Day. He probably gets sucked right into the pomp and ceremony of speeches and parades and poetry.
If this same veteran also got some combat time in his short tour of duty, he probably will enjoy the day even moreso. Let him soak it up - it will help him readjust to normal life again.
What does the day mean to this veteran, with combat time, after more than a few Veteran's Days have passed? Not what it's supposed to mean. The warm fuzzy feelings from the first few Veteran's Days wear off eventually, and the day becomes an annual reminder of how sappy and out-of-touch so many people can be.
I was in the military for twelve years - so what? I have combat time - so what? I didn't join the military to defend freedom or protect my country or anything like that. I joined the military because I failed my first year of college, miserably, and the economy at the time didn't offer me any very appealing alternatives. That's not heroic - that's running out of options.
My combat time counts as heroic? Why? Because I followed orders? I didn't volunteer for the first Gulf War. I was ordered to go. We went there because we were ordered. What we did there was ordered. We left there because we were ordered. Military people are trained and paid to make sacrifices, get deployed, and fight wars. That's not heroic - that's doing your job, and doing exactly what you signed a contract to do.
I guess Veteran's Day wouldn't be so obnoxious if it didn't get so incredibly sappy. Every time I hear the word "hero", I cringe. Of all the amazing people I served with in my twelve years, there isn't a single one I'd call a hero, for anything they did. Veterans who have been awarded a Medal of Honor are the closest thing to your idea of "hero". Average everyday veterans are not, and every time you use that word on us you take something away from those veterans who earned a taste of the word.
Here come the poems and tributes to "our heroes" - so full of unrealistic and grandiose ideas that aren't even close to the military experience. What about combat? Combat was 90% unrivaled boredom and 10% total chaos.....period. How you turn that into some mystical march of glory is beyond me. You would have us shouldering a flag and playing a flute or drums as we march into battle to protect your freedoms. That's not quite how it went.
Find me a veteran who accepts the label "hero" and you've found the least-deserving veteran of all. I'm not saying the military has never seen a hero. I'm saying that they would never accept the label for themselves, deserving as they might be. When you use a word like "hero" as a blanket term for all veterans (or any other group), you devalue it a little more each time.
Yes, I'm proud of my service, but it doesn't consume me, I don't wear it on my sleeve, and I sure don't need an annual reminder of it. It was a job that I did to the best of my ability, just like I swore to do when I recited my oath of enlistment. If Veteran's Day were not so pompous and unrealistic, maybe it would be tolerable. Write some honest poetry. Author some realistic tributes. See the military experience for what it really was for most veterans.
Call me bitter, call me ungrateful, call me what you like - you can even call me honest. This is how I genuinely feel about Veteran's Day. Sorry to rain on your parade. High-fives to my fellow veterans.
Steven A. Hass