There are 21.8 million veterans of the U.S. armed forces as of 2014, according the Census Bureau. To put that into context, the bureau has counted 319.2 million Americans.
Veterans Day falls within the same month as Election Day and Thanksgiving simply by coincidence, but nonetheless appropriate. We take the time to recognize those who served our country. But, how often are we introduced to a war veteran and thank them for their service? The question was presented to our newsroom a few weeks ago.
The fervor of events leading to Election Day has polarized the nation into shades of red and blue. There’s a divide between both political parties that has not been more evident than today. It’s to the point we are willing to argue whether a newspaper is black and white, or white and black. Wars, too, are often the basis of argument. Why they start, and the legitimacy for it in the first place, are sometimes argued based on what side of the aisle you wish to stand.
The generation that fought in World War II was coined as “The Greatest Generation.” Men and women volunteered to serve, many of whom did so long before the Japanese Empire forced our country’s hand on Dec. 7, 1941. And, once Pearl Harbor was attacked, a wave of volunteers flooded recruitment centers. Flash forward a generation to Vietnam, and the war effort was supplied by individuals forced into service through a draft. For the lack of a better term, one war was popular, and the other was not. One group showered as heroes upon their return. The other, unfairly showered disgracefully.
Political views should not factor into why we don’t stop to thank veterans for serving our military. These are individuals who answered the call when their nation asked for help. They left home, endured the unimaginable, and many times did not come back the same way they left. For those of us who did not serve, we can’t relate.
Our newsroom was introduced to a World War II vet by the name of Frank Murphy. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, only 620,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2016. It’s not often that Frank wears his U.S. Army hat in public. But, we asked how he felt when people stopped to thank him, and he recalled one story in particular.
One day, as he was wearing his cap, he was approached by a young teenager. He stopped, shook Frank’s hand, and thanked him with the utmost sincerity. The outpouring of genuine gratitude from a young man was unexpected, and nearly brought the veteran of three major wars to tears.
Don’t be embarrassed or too shy to give thanks to a veteran this Friday.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.