How can those of us who never served in our military possibly demonstrate our gratitude, appreciation and reverence for the men and women who wore the uniform and fought the fights to protect our freedom?
To be sure, we have our holidays. This Saturday, for example, is Veterans Day – the day set aside for expressing appreciation to those who endured the torment of war on our behalf. In the spring, there's Memorial Day, which is dedicated to those who gave their lives.
And then are the monuments and memorials. They dot our great cities and small towns. From soaring marble in Washington, DC to the simple plaques and statues honoring war dead in front of state capitols and city halls, they command our attention and focus our thoughts.
Each of these is worthy in its own right. But shouldn't there be more?
As young men and women once again put themselves in harm's way in Iraq, Afghanistan and a range of other theaters that might remain secret for years, thoughts and prayers feel inadequate. Appreciation demands something more tangible.
Not tangible in the sense of a check or a shiny new car – though neither ought be cast aside out of hand. Instead, something tangible that the veterans whom we honor on Saturday can experience personally rather than contenting themselves with the indistinct well-wishes of a nation. And as much as we might like to pursue the shiny new car idea, practicality probably stands as too great a hurdle.
So what to do?
There's really only one thing: seek out a veteran -- a neighbor, a co-worker, a family member, even someone you run into on the street -- take their hand and thank them for their service.
This suggestion is hardly new. Indeed, it's almost a clichˇ. But the problem with clichˇs is that they lose their meaning and their impact. When someone suggests that we find and thank a veteran on Saturday, it tends to enter through one ear and exit through the other while we peruse newspaper circulars for great Veterans Day deals on cars and furniture.
This year should be different.
There are more than 250,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines deployed overseas, many in Iraq and Afghanistan. The World War II generation – the men who overcame Germany and Japan – is slowly fading away.
Now is the time. Not just to think good thoughts and rely on whispered prayers. It's time to reach out and say "thank you." It's time to get up and do something. It's time to translate appreciation into action.
Our vets deserve it. So does the country that they have for so long protected with courage and honor.November 9, 2006