Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank a Veteran in your Town Today

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on November 11, 2011.

Today is Veteran’s Day. And each and every one of us should go out of our way today to personally say “thank you” to a veteran we know in our community.

The public perception of veterans seems to vary from generation to generation. As our wars change, so has how we look at the men and women who fight them. But the courage, the dedication, and the personal sacrifice these brave soldiers exhibit is timeless. Our appreciation of it must be also.

The two World Wars this country fought were battles for global supremacy. We weren’t just attacked, we were threatened with extinction. Most existing nations were involved. It was country against country, government against government, military against military. The other side wore uniforms, we knew who they were. We had a clear goal and purpose.

Then things changed. We sent troops to Korea for a “police action”. My father and others went to a country half a world away because they were having a civil war. Suddenly we were fighting but not trying to win. We were asking our armed forces to protect but not attack, to defend but not offend. Victory became more of a concept than a clearly achievable objective.

Then came Vietnam, and we lost our national focus. We were embroiled in a war to stop Communism in a country few here at the time even recognized. We sent thousands of young people to die in the jungle for a “cause” that a growing percentage did not believe in or respect. And for the first time in our history, we began to blame the soldiers for the unpopular war. We took out our frustration on them.

When the Vietnam War ended, we did not win. There was no joyous celebration like there was for WWII. We did not welcome the veterans back with open arms, we merely brought them home and sent them off to fend for themselves. As a nation we were a bit embarrassed, and these honorable soldiers were unfairly and wrongly seen as a symbol of our failure.

Then came the Gulf conflicts, more undeclared wars in nations far away. They were precipitated by terrorist attacks against us, the attack in 2001 being on our soil and shaking us to our core. But this was not country against country. The other side did not wear uniforms and once again the goals and objectives for our gallant soldiers were vague and unclear. We were fighting a very real terrorist threat, but unsure just who it was we were blaming and chasing.

World War II lasted about five years. It has now been nearly a decade since we sent troops into Afghanistan and Iraq. Our wars are getting longer and more difficult, and we are expecting and demanding more from our personnel. We are extending terms of service, keeping citizen/soldiers away from their families for increasing periods of time. We are subjecting them to horrors unimagined by their predecessors with the awful yet effective technology and power we possess today.

Yet through it all, one thing has not changed. The American soldier remains the most effective, committed and reliable weapon ever to walk the face of the earth. That is not because they have superpowers or maniacal devotion to cause or can bring about mass destruction with a single keystroke or radio call. It is because those soldiers have managed to keep in perspective their duty to their country, a country that isn’t always clear about its duty back to them.

Get out into your city or town today. Talk to the folks you see and know in the coffee shops, stores and town halls. Make a point of thanking them again for their service, be it from 1944 or 2011. Tell them you appreciate all they did, even if it was long ago. Seek them out, make the effort. It pales in comparison to the efforts they have made for all of us.

I never served in the military, so I have no real idea of the sacrifice of those who did. But I know my family is safer today because of them, and that alone is reason to extend them my never-ending gratitude. Happy Veterans Day.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a grateful American. He can be reached at
This column