On the 11th day of November each year, we celebrate a day that was proclaimed and set aside by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in November 1919 to honor American veterans of all wars. The important purpose of this significant day is to celebrate and honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. We do this in general, by displaying the flag of the United States on all government buildings and observing with appropriate ceremonies in our schools, churches and other suitable places.
Another way to honor is to share a veteran’s own words as to what this day means to them personally. I am privileged and honored to know a veteran of the Iraq War (who wishes to remain anonymous). Here are his words:
“Returning from Iraq, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. Guilt because I hadn’t accomplished my mission. Guilt because other service members had been killed or wounded. Guilt because I had survived. Coming back wasn’t the same as coming home. That took much longer than a plane ride. I wasn’t in front-line combat. I’d only been shot at a few times, but I’d been responsible for others who lost their lives in horrific ways. It took years for me to come to terms with that. To forgive myself.
Through those years, the smallest gestures meant the world to me. From the line of gray-haired veterans greeting us when we got off the plane to endless expressions of gratitude for our service from family, friends, and strangers. Those messages mattered. They still matter, because they remind veterans that our country cares about our sacrifices. The appreciation helps close emotional wounds and heal unseen scars.
Veterans Day perpetuates this healing process for all veterans. While Memorial Day honors those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, Veterans Day honors those who served and survived. It is an official recognition of our service and reminds Americans to continue those incredibly important expressions of gratitude.
I will never forget my first Veterans Day after returning from Iraq. I was walking back to my apartment after class and passed another law student. I didn’t know him well, but his enthusiastic greeting of “Happy Veterans Day” touched me deeply. I’d been suffering from severe depression — punishing myself for living when others died — and his acknowledgment of my status as a veteran made me feel at the same time self-conscious and proud. It mattered at a time when I needed it the most. It helped me heal. It helped me survive.
It’s hard to accept the gratitude, to accept that I’m even included in Veterans Day, because I don’t think I deserve it. So many others did so much more. Yet, it still means the world to me. I am so grateful to everyone who supported me and supports other veterans. Thank you and please continue what you’re doing.”
You are encouraged to take a moment this November 11th and reflect on what Veterans Day really means to you. If you have friends or relatives that have fought in any war that involved the United States, take the time to acknowledge and honor their service and sacrifice. This too is what it means to be an American: showing our respect for what other fellow Americans have done for us and this great country we live in. Celebrate it with pride!