Veterans Day happens every year. Sometimes we forget them. Veterans get lost in the shuffle between sales at stores and pageantry at sporting events. Fly overs and big flags. One of my favorite poems is Flanders Fields. So simple, yet so moving.
The dramatic presentations to Vets is fun, and if done right it’s good for our countries soul. But, I find that sitting down and engaging with a single vet is better. There are millions of stories out there. Many veterans don’t want to tell them, because they don’t want to remember. Richard Pittman told me once that he hates to tell his story because it was the worst day of his life. But, he loves to hear other people’s stories because he is so inspired by them.
As the generations pass, more and more stories come out. Flags of Our Fathers was a book about World War Two, but it was also a book about a son’s quest to get to know his father after he passed away. The Monuments Men tells the intriguing story of how a group of soldiers overcame incredible odds to save some of the world’s greatest cultural treasures from destruction during World War Two. There is something for everyone to learn about wars and why we fight them, and what happens in the aftermath. But you have to engage the vets to learn.
I imagine today is a bittersweet day for many Vets. They are alive. In many cases, it’s just fate. They know they were lucky. That’s why it’s important to celebrate with them. Not because they won or lost a war, but for the simple fact that they were willing to lay down their lives for your freedom, and were lucky enough to survive. My very brief time at the US Air Force Academy gave me an appreciation for anyone that wears a uniform. My uncle spent a lot of time in Viet Nam, and other extended family members served in other wars. It’s not a pretty business.
I have been to Arlington Cemetery several times and each time it’s different. I learn something new. Once, I have been to the beaches at Normandy, and to the cemetery at Colleville sur Mer. It is an amazing experience. I encourage you to go to a military cemetery near you and just walk around.
At the National World War Two Museum, there are two unique projects you need to know about. First, there is an online effort to compile a bunch of video greetings thanking veterans for our freedom. Make your own via this website using a computer camera. Or, get creative and upload something else.
The second project is targeted to high schoolers. I have never seen anything like it, and I think it’s really neat. They are calling it the Normandy Academy. High School students take time and research a fallen soldier in World War Two. Then, they go to New Orleans to learn more. After time there, they go to Normandy. They tour the beaches and visit the grave of the soldier that they have been researching. They go to Paris, and see different things there that had meaning for the war. It’s a pretty cool way to learn the hard lessons of war.
I have sent this to some teachers and they wondered about scholarships. There aren’t any. But, a creative kid could do a Kickstarter, and raise the money. Plus, if they used social media to engage a group while they did their research, I bet it would be a richer experience and they would be surprised by the things that happened and the places their research would go.
Fate and luck gave us the living veterans we have among us today. Don’t let them sit in a corner. Engage them. Get them to talk about their experiences. If you can, video them for prosperity. Your descendants will appreciate it. And, you might learn a lot of things you didn’t know about someone close to you.
Have a good Veteran’s Day and I thank them for what they have done, and are doing.