After watching as World War II veterans were honored at ceremonies across the country this week — and then sitting down for dinner with a group of strangers at a Philadelphia diner — my spirits lifted. A first meeting had gone well, and I was staying at a motel a few blocks from the USMVM, the main military post between Germany and Scotland.
I ate dinner with two guys who had served in Vietnam and were now retired. After that, I sat down with some folks who were sailors who had also been over there and were now retired. A third group was wearing vintage Vietnam-era uniforms. I spent more time talking with two women who were wives of vets. Several of these women had lost their husbands, and spoke about how difficult that was.
A Korean War vet took our pictures. Eventually, the guests all retired and headed home. It was as comfortable as I could have imagined, as were the meals and the homemade cookies the veterans had prepared and served.
I am just 34, but I’m starting to think that it’s hard to say goodbye. There are friends I know who didn’t come home from World War II or Vietnam. Some were never seen again.
Veterans Day was supposed to honor our heroes. What it is now seems to be a way to shirk our responsibility to help them, to treat their service as if it were the dirtiest — and I don’t mean the dirtiest in the sense of being unharnessed — but the least honorable. We’re supposed to show gratitude for their service. We’re not supposed to think about how at a time when so many felt so emboldened to fight for their rights and belief systems, a few decades later their wars created a generation of people who felt it so worthwhile to fight that they went back for a second try.
Read the full column here.