As the calendar turns to Veterans Day, those of us in the military are keenly aware of its meaning. We recognize that it is a time to reflect on time in service, remember those who sacrificed, and identify with all service members—no matter when they served.
Since 9/11, the increase in recognition of our troops has grown significantly.
Service members are honored in high-profile events, like NFL games, or showcased on the nightly news as they surprise their loved ones during homecoming. There are special discounts and entire weekends dedicated to encouraging the support of our troops. Civilians not affiliated with the military give funds to charities that support and serve veterans. And, the overarching support for our veterans is vast within both the military and civilian communities.
But, it wasn’t always like this. During peacetime eras of post-Vietnam through September 11th, troops went mostly unrecognized—at least compared to the capacity that they are recognized now. That may have to do with the nature of wartime versus peacetime—during wartime, the focus is put on the troops and their families. During peacetime, the focus draws away from our veterans simply because of the nature of our society. There’s no drama so civilians aren’t interested. There are no emotional homecomings to binge watch on Facebook. No viral photos of a newborn resting in her KIA father’s Kevlar. The military is not in your face, so those of us in society largely forget the world’s most elite fighting force is waiting in the shadows.
The changing trends of support for veterans
Retired Marine Maj. Jon C. Petersen has seen the trends with society’s view of veterans ebb and flow. Enlisting in 1991, he came out of boot camp the day the bombings started in the Gulf War. “In the 90s,” he says, “we were mostly overlooked and disregarded. Looking back over American history, wartime does not equal veterans earning hero status. Thankfully, today it does.”
But the tide started to turn after the attacks of September 11th. Post-9/11 troops gained tremendous support when Operation Enduring Freedom kicked off, but despite still being in an active war where our military families are continuously saying goodbye to their loved ones, society has somewhat forgotten our boots are on foreign grounds.
Troops are still widely recognized but coverage of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East have faded from news headlines. Because of this, civilian society seems to all but forgotten veterans and their sacrifice. A dual-military soldier, commissioned in 2007 at the height of the Afghanistan War, states, “We are fortunate that we are not currently in a war where casualties are as high as previous conflicts, but each life lost is significant and should be recognized or acknowledged.”
Patriotism still exists
There are events that continue to show the support of military service members beyond “BLOW OUT FURNITURE SALES” and free meals to active duty at the local Applebee’s. For one veteran, races that honor service members seem to have the most impact. “The Army Ten Miler in DC each October. This event reminds me of the patriotism that still exists, and it reminds me of what I have to be grateful for everyday because of the sacrifices others have made. Running that race for friends who are no longer around to do so is the drive to keep running forth and serving our beautiful country.”
Veterans Day is meant to honor the sacrifices all military veterans made by signing on the proverbial dotted line. Peterson adds that post-9/11, “service members are acknowledged by individuals on the street, at local businesses, (and) in large venues like the NFL.”
Veterans share their own reflections of the American sentiment about military service in honor of Veterans Day:
“As the Vietnam War was winding down, I decided to join the Navy Medical Corps instead of being drafted into the Army and going to Viet Nam. Things didn’t turn out quite as I’d planned when my first assignment took me to the 3rd Marine Division and, alas, to Viet Nam. That experience and those of subsequent years defined my life, both the good memories and those best left alone. I had the privilege of serving with so many remarkable men and women including two future Commandants. After 24 years of service and further tours of duty in the operational Navy and Navy medical facilities, I retired as a Captain in 1998. I met my wife at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center and raised two daughters, one who married a Marine pilot. My wife served 20 years retired as a Captain. Following a try at civilian medicine, which I didn’t care for, I joined the VA where I spent twelve years caring for the veterans with visible and, perhaps, the more traumatic invisible wounds of war before again retiring.”
“My reflections of the public’s perception of the military pre and post 9/11 is colored by my service during the turmoil of the final years of the Viet Nam war. The military was downsizing and the country was trying to regain its identity while doing its best to forget the war. As a service member, I felt generally ignored by most, but I wasn’t viewed with the vindictive vehemence and ‘guilt by association’ that a lot of the returning vets experienced. While not of the magnitude of Pearl Harbor, the awakening of the national consciousness by the destruction of the twin-towers galvanized the country and cast the military in a new light not seen since the 1st Gulf War. Something else happened as well with the public’s growing disillusionment with government institutions. The military was viewed as the most trustworthy. Service in the armed forces was again accepted and recognized as an honorable profession.”
“I can only recall attending one formal Veterans Day event and that was a memorial service conducted at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. Two things struck me, the pride shown in the faces of the veteran’s color guard and the endless rows of white crosses. Both those who serviced with pride and honor and those who’d given their lives. What I do recall during my days at the VA in Honolulu is watching many of the remaining WWII veterans of the Army’s most decorated unit, the 422nd Combat Infantry Brigade walking the halls of the clinic. Their quiet dignity and pride. What stories they could tell, but they choose not boast and many of their stories and memories are best left alone.”
“Deciding what to say to the American public in these days of short attention spans and the emergence of social media poses a problem. Most people appear to go about their daily lives seemingly without conscious thought, let alone what it means to serve the country in the armed forces. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to suggest most have no idea what the military does each day. The significance of Veteran’s Day may be addressed on a number of short ‘sound bites’ on the national news shows, but the day pales in significance to those commercialized holidays such as Easter, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. In my mind, that is a good thing. Leave this day to those who served and their families. So, what would I suggest? Be thankful for what you have and understand how the service of so many has made that possible.”
“The public perception of veterans ebbs and flows with the ‘popularity’ of any given conflict. Does the public view a war as ‘just’ or as something else? Many Vietnam vets still feel ignored and vilified for their service. World War II vets are celebrated and honored for their service as those who served in the First Gulf War. Korea? Those vets are too forgotten. And now, the members of the military have seemed to have escaped the vitriol embroiling today’s politics and national discussion. So, serve with dedication, distinction, honor, and pride. At some level, even the cynics will understand. On a final note, I still am surprised, but pleased that so many will say on learning I served: Thank you for your service.”