As we do our best to celebrate Veterans Day, let’s also remember the veterans who may have a hard time being remembered.
In the 1970s, Britt's father (far left) guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Britt has returned to Arlington National Cemetery several times to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony, not only to remember the fallen soldier but also the one she calls dad.
My town has a wonderful publication that features the stories of neighbors, local businesses, and highlights of where we live. Beyond its editorial content, its work promotes unity, belonging, and a sense of knowing each other. For the November issue, my husband was asked to appear in a photo of service members for the cover. He gladly obliged when I nudged him to do so. Most service members don’t seek the spotlight. They do what they do because they love serving their country, not because they love receiving attention for it. As it turned out, only four people showed up for the photo. Though we know many more veterans live in our area, we were not surprised by the low turnout.
I spoke with the publisher and shared that some veterans may have mixed feelings about appearing in the photo despite the magazine’s sincerest efforts to honor them. I suggested the magazine think about writing a gentle message to that end. Thanks to her thoughtful encouragement, I wrote the following note, which was published this month. I’ve received permission from her to share it via Primerrily so I can share it with you and our community, in case it might help you express your love for a veteran you know:
To the service members who chose not to be pictured in the cover photo:
We see you. We respect you. We value your service.
Neighbors, we have more than the four veterans pictured on the cover living in our neighborhoods. I know this because I’ve met you while you watched my children put American flags in our yard in anticipation of Memorial Day. We struck up a conversation of service and sacrifice, and you sweetly listened to my kids tell you their funny stories. I’ve met you while pushing my baby in the stroller and complimenting your gorgeous yard as you worked in it. You asked which house I lived in, and when I described it you said, “Oh yes, the one with the Navy license plate. I’ve spent some time in the Navy myself.” These are some of the fruits of living in such a warm and friendly neighborhood, where neighbors truly care to learn about one another.
While some of you may have been busy while the photo was taken or didn’t even know it was happening, I also know there are many veterans who prefer not to be highlighted as such. I know because I’m the daughter of one. My father served in the Army Special Forces as a Green Beret in Vietnam and now is 100% disabled as a result. For many reasons I respect, he prefers to stay out of the spotlight. You might feel this way too. You didn’t serve to be recognized; you served to serve. In the course of fulfilling your duty, you may have, like my father, endured great trauma, and so you have conflicting emotions surrounding your time in the service. Like him, you may have earned medals that you’ve kept hidden for decades because they remind you of things you’d rather forget. Or maybe you feel like you didn’t do “enough,” and so you don’t deserve to be photographed. To all these and more, I say on behalf of our neighborhood, “we respect your choice, and we respect you.”
Next year, our magazine will take another photo for Veterans Day, and if you change your mind and want to join, you’d be welcome. You can contact the publisher to stay in touch for details. If you’re on the fence, think about it like this: A few years ago, Sarasota held an event to honor Vietnam veterans at Patriots Plaza upon the 50th anniversary of the war. I asked my dad if he wanted to go together. He didn’t. He avoids crowds, and he remembers how he was treated in uniform when he came home -- spat at, verbally degraded, and judged. In effort to both respect and honor him, I go to veterans gatherings as his proud representative. I stand in his place. You can do the same for your brothers and sisters in arms. Don’t do it for you. Do it for the man with whom you served; stand in his place. Do it for the kids growing up in this neighborhood who need to know the man walking his dog and the one raking leaves in his yard chose to serve this country, with its glories as well as its imperfections, because those veterans were faithful to its ideals, not the political zeitgeist.
If we want kids to grow up with a sense of legacy, we must remember the quote from Edmund Burke, “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.” Let’s give kids ancestors -- of bloodline or neighborly relation -- on whom they can look backward and from whom they can emulate for the future. How might our neighborhoods, communities, and country be better if its citizens (especially the little ones growing up) knew the faces and names of those who embody the idea of thinking beyond themselves? So many more will be moved to consider the ways in which they may also contribute to our nation.