Editorial: Veterans serve us and we must serve them

The Virginian-Pilot & Daily Press Editorial Board, The Virginian-Pilot
·3 min read

Veterans Day 2020, like just about everything else in this year of COVID, will not be the same.

Let’s turn any disappointment into opportunity and concentrate less on the parades that aren’t happening and the ceremonies that virtual, and more on the veterans — the men and women who answered the call to serve in our military.

Not that everything has been called off. There will be some ceremonies and events, plus discounts and free food for veterans at a number of restaurants. Businesses have sales pegged to Veterans Day. You’ll probably see more U.S. flags flying than on an ordinary day, and hear more people saying, “Thank you for your service.”

But today won’t be like any Veterans Day most of us can remember. The city of Virginia Beach and the Hampton Roads Council of Veterans Organizations have canceled their parade, ceremony and luncheon. Norfolk’s Veterans Day ceremony will have a color guard, band, wreath-laying and speeches, but all will be virtual. So will the ceremonies at the Hampton VA Medical Center and the Nauticus & Battleship Wisconsin museum.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has, appropriately, set the theme for this year’s official Veterans Day poster as “Vision: Veterans in Focus.”

So, let’s make this a Veterans Day that’s really about the veterans, not just about parades and sales and ceremonies.

This is a day to think about those who have served — their courage, their patriotism, the sacrifices they have made for our country — as well as the problems that some of them have stemming from their service. Today is a day to think about what we can do not only to honor veterans but also to step up when they need help.

Last year’s Veterans Day was the 100th observance of the holiday dedicated to honoring those in the U.S. military. In 1919, Americans celebrated the first official Armistice Day a year after the treaty ending the First World War was signed. World War I was the first time the U.S. sent troops abroad in large numbers to fight in defense of foreign countries. Many Americans wanted to stay out of that war, but as events unfolded, it became clear that this country was a part of the greater world, like it or not.

More than 4 million Americans were mobilized in World War I. Many died, many more were wounded and untold numbers came home scarred by haunting memories. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, a day to honor all military veterans.

In the century since World War I ended, we’ve sent millions more men and women to fight in other wars, and more to serve at home and on deployment to protect our national security. Since the end of the draft in 1973, all who serve are volunteers.

If, as the VA poster suggests, we focus on our veterans today, what do we see? Here in Hampton Roads, we are likely to see our neighbors.

We see many people who have spent time in the military protecting our country’s freedom and democracy and then have put what they learned to use in the civilian world. Veterans serve as leaders, professionals, skilled workers and citizens who continue their tradition of volunteering by making their communities better places to live.

But we also sometimes see people who are struggling — with mental health problems, suicidal thoughts, long waiting times at medical facilities. We have veterans who need jobs and those who are homeless.

We’ve made strides in combating these problems, including programs that involve cooperation between state and local efforts and VA programs. More needs to be done.

So today, when you see a veteran, thank her or him. But also focus on efforts to help veterans among us who are in need, and to make things better for tomorrow’s veterans — those still in uniform — and their families as they step up in the service of our nation and all it stands for.

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