San Francisco hosted a Veterans’ day parade this past weekend. And only a few people showed up. Some blame a lack of publicity. Perhaps. Maybe not everyone chooses to celebrate our veterans by attending a parade. But I wonder: as a nation, are we showing up for our veterans? Are we showing up to remember, support, and help those who choose to serve and fight for us?
Around this time last year, I was at the airport, anxiously awaiting my husband’s return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He’d spent the better part of a year treating our wounded servicemen and women at the Bagram Air Base trauma unit.
Our dear friends snapped the candid picture above as we walked through the terminal. We were so happy to be reunited. A few minutes after this photo was taken, I realized the man who left was not the man who came home. He was different because he didn’t come home alone.
He saw young men and women full of talent and potential die in the service of our country. Others sustained devastating wounds. He brought them home with him and he carries them wherever he goes. Their sacrifices are sealed in his memory. When our country asked for their service, they showed up. Now one year later, do we remember? They died in one of the deadliest attacks Bagram has seen in the last five years. Do we know their names? Who helps bear the burden of grief borne by those they left behind?
Que Dee Jones, a B-24 pilot and my husband’s grandfather, was shot down over Italy during World War II. His comrades went to recover their comrade, and found that his wedding ring was the only thing that remained of him. His story is part of my family and so are those who found him — even though I don’t know their names. If I’m going to show up for our veterans, I need to do better. I need to do more.
In America’s lifetime, more than 2.7 million men and women have sustained injuries in combat or made the ultimate sacrifice. And 23 million veterans live among today.
The consequences of their service are real: sacrifice, separation, injury, and death. There are further, often unseen consequences that exact a high toll: the reality of PTSD, broken lives, marriages forever changed or destroyed. The impacts are real and the price is high. It’s a price they are willing to pay. Honoring that sacrifice requires our willingness to pay something back to them.
Many veterans struggle to find employment or retain housing. They need opportunities. The many organizations that support our veterans need volunteers. Servicemen and women coming home to an empty airport need a friend to welcome them. Families of those serving need a network to lean on. And those who have lost someone in service deserve someone to stand with them. We owe it to them to show up. After all, when asked, they didn’t hesitate to show up and serve for us.
I love Veterans Day. I love the parades. And I believe it’s an important time to commemorate and appreciate their service. But showing up for our veterans is not about attending a parade or a television special or a day off from work. Taking care of those who defend our freedom is not something that occurs once a year. It must happen every day. It takes work, it takes an American people committed to supporting its heroes. We must commit to making sure they don’t end up homeless, sick, forgotten, or struggling. From those who were a part of the greatest generation, to those who are just returning. In honor of all those who serve, let’s start by showing up.
How do you show your appreciation for our veterans?