Originally published in
Rock Island Argus &
In my rural Illinois town, Veterans Day is a big deal. Here, after all, a veteran isn't a concept or an ideal. A vet is the old man next door who hoists a U.S. Army flag every morning, the kid who led the football team in touchdowns last year, the woman who stamps the date on your books at the library. She's your letter carrier. He's your Dad.
I'm visiting family in Denver this week. For the first time in decades, I'll spend Veterans Day in a big city. I'll miss my hometown's parade, the speeches, the laying of wreaths on the courthouse lawn, and hope the big city will honor our veterans in ways other than offering 30 percent off on linens and MP3 players.
Of course, I look forward to spending time with my grandsons. But I don't think I'll spend much time lecturing them on the importance of honoring our veterans. They're grade school boys, more interested in Legos than lectures on the importance of the citizen-soldier as a vital component of America's military readiness.
But they will not always be children. They will grow into the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. I hope, by then, I will have told them:
-- My grandsons, your family tree blossoms with generations of ancestors who served in the United States military, in war and in peace -- even Grandpa Frank! You live in a free United States because those young Americans, and millions like them, were willing to put down their plows and plans to take on important responsibilities.
-- Joining the Armed Forces is an honorable form of service. Anyone who tries to tell you differently does not know about sacrifice, honor and the bonds of camaraderie that can withstand any such criticism. Yes, military service is honorable, but there are many other admirable ways to serve your country, your state or your community. How do you know if a job or profession is a true form of service? All you have to do is look at those who work in that field. Look at teachers, who spend their own money to buy pencils and books for their students. Look at nurses, who work long, exhausting shifts caring for the injured, the sick and the aged, and who so rarely hear the words, "Thank you." Look at cops, who are paid in complaints. Sacrifice can't be easily measured, but you know it when you see it. Where the sacrifice is, so is the service.
-- Always thank the soldier for his or her service. What he did, he did for you.
-- Never blame the war on the soldier. The sergeant in the foxhole did not start the war. In fact, he wishes it would be over even more than you or I do.
I hope my grandsons will grow up in a world in which war is a memory and the soldier's job is but to guard the peace. This has been the hope of every generation, and I pray it will be the truth of theirs.
But if they one day consider serving in uniform, I hope I, or someone, will remind them what boot camp drill instructors have always known: you don't have to be the bravest, strongest superhero to wear a uniform. A little willingness and enthusiasm have been sufficient turn millions of Americans into effective protectors of our country.
Even Grandpa Frank.