I met Joe while he was nearing the end of his life’s journey. He was tough guy, facing his known health condition like a true hardened soldier as many veterans I have had the honor of supporting do – with great courage, faith and resolve. Joe exemplified what so many veterans demonstrate daily around the world – a contagious pride in their God, country, communities and families – working hard helping to shape this world into a place of peace. Joe, like so many men and women, was one who never stopped working to recognize and support his fellow “military brothers” right up until just a few days before he died. I loved Joe for his selfless patriotic duty.
Yes, as a hospice Chaplain, I get to listen in awe to the countless stories of so many of these men and women who gave so much to the cause of American freedom. They answered the call and served in many different types of duties that all gave support to our Country’s national goals. Some lost limbs, lived with wounds that never healed, and struggled with the burdens of great emotional pain. And the families of these committed veterans suffered much as well. I have seen the faces of family members as they showed pictures of loved ones that died during war. These were faces of pride and of deep loss.
We Americans must always remember what has been given to us by the sacrifices of so many before us who gave up so much for the service and duty of their country. Veteran’s Day is a great day to remember and honor those veterans who still today work hard to keep our country safe.
What makes up the character of these young men and women who sacrifice do much? Joe knew, and he wanted all of us to remember as he did. So, while Joe was preparing to ship-out one last time, he gave me this explanation of what A Veteran Is…
American war veterans come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and ages. Their collective experience spans two world wars and several foreign conflicts. They have followed war mules through Flanders field, dropped from landing barges onto the beaches of Normandy, faced the ice cold of Porkchop Hill and trudged the rice paddies of Mekong Delta.
But regardless in differences in makeup and experience, all veterans share a common bond – a brotherhood of memory and hard-won wisdom that helps define their character.
A veteran is the first man/woman up as the flag passes by on the 4th of July, and the last one down, for they have been witnesses to the blood and tears that make this and all other parades possible.
A veteran is a person of peace, soft spoken, slow to anger, quick to realize that those who talk most about the glory of war are those who know least about its horror. A veteran never jokes about war; he/she has been there, and still sees on memory’s vivid screen the wounded and the dying, the widows and orphans; a veteran knows first-hand that no war is good and that the only thing worse than war is slavery.
A veteran is a friend to all races of man, begrudging none; he/she carries the knowledge that it is not man who is the enemy but enslavement and false ideologies. Those whom he/she once faced across the hostile battle lines, he now esteems as his brothers/sisters.
A veteran is at once proud and humble: proud of the fact that in 200 years no foreign enemy has set foot on American soil; and humble in the realization that many of his comrades who helped him make this lofty aim a reality, never returned.
More than anything else, a veteran loves freedom. A veteran can spend a whole afternoon doing nothing…just because it suits him or her, and just because they know they have paid the price to do what he/she wants with their time. A veteran also takes a personal pride in the freedom of others-in men and women attending the church of their choice; in friends voting how they choose; and in children sleeping quietly, without fear to interrupt their slumber.
A veteran is every man or woman grown a little taller – a person who understands the awesome price of life’s intangibles of freedom, justice and democracy. A veteran’s motto is to live and let live. But, if he had to, if a veteran had to choose between servitude and conflict, the veteran would once again answer a call of duty.
Because, above all – above all else – a veteran is an American.
Copyright 1984 – author unknown