Biannual. Defined as occurring twice a year. The June and December solstices. The beginning and end of daylight savings time. Trips to the dentist. Replacing the batteries in your smoke detectors.
Thanking veterans for their service. Wait...what?
Veteran. Defined as a person who has served in the military. We thank our veterans on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. And that's about it.
Veterans Day 2021 is next week. Like clockwork, vendors are pumping out auto-generated emails thanking veterans for their service. Highway billboards are blaring the five ubiquitous words: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!
What does that really mean? Is it a "check-the-box" phrase? Does saying it immunize you for another six months?
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 21.2 million veterans in the United States, and there are 2.4 million veteran-owned businesses. Do you hire these veteran businesses for goods or services? Do you help veterans find work? Do you employ veterans? Do you provide free medical, dental or legal services for veterans? Do you drive veterans to their medical appointments if they need rides? Do you make sure veterans aren't lonely or isolated? Do you talk to veterans or better yet, do you listen to veterans?
It reminds me of a funny, but solidly accurate, comment I once read: "Remember...just going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car."
We buried our 35-year-old nephew last November, just two days after Veterans Day 2020. He was a Marine combat veteran, a warrior who conquered the CRUCIBLE during basic training at Parris Island. The CRUCIBLE, a rite of passage every recruit must endure and pass to officially earn the title of United States Marine, this after 13 grueling weeks of basic training.
The CRUCIBLE...54 hours of hell, or so I am told, with each recruit allowed just six hours of sleep, provided only two meals, and tasked with 48-plus miles of marching with 45-plus pounds of gear. The CRUCIBLE...where teamwork, resilience, courage and a positive attitude are crucial to survival and success.
But after his return from Iraq, Joe struggled with the CRUCIBLE of life. Life...where teamwork, resilience, courage and a positive attitude are crucial to survival and success.
I set off for a ride the morning of Joe's funeral in a steady 36-degree rain, confident that if Joe could endure 13 weeks of basic training capped off with 54 hours of unrelenting pain, I could endure 90 minutes of temporary discomfort on my road bike.
It was no CRUCIBLE, but it was cathartic. As I pedaled, I thought about the wonderful "Veterans History Project," a Library of Congress initiative which "collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of war veterans." As I pedaled, I felt grateful that I played an active role in capturing and memorializing the WWII service of my father and father-in-law as part of this project.
As I pedaled, I thought about my friend Mike, a WWII veteran with whom I had many wonderful visits. Mike loved to say "I'm in good shape for the shape I'm in," a turn of phrase immortalized in Johnny Cash's song "Ragged Old Flag." Mike talked, and I listened...and I learned.
As I pedaled, I wondered how many people thanked Joe for his service since his discharge 11 years ago, and after thanking Joe, proceeded to do absolutely nothing more. Joe's brother delivered a stirring eulogy at the funeral. He said Joe was a great teacher if you just let him teach you.
Does just saying "thank you for your service" make you IN SERVICE to veterans any more than standing in your garage makes you a car? Does just uttering "thank you for your service" help veterans conquer the CRUCIBLE of life after their service?
We should listen more to veterans like Mike. We should let veterans like Joe teach us. We shouldn't allow their service to be trivialized on a billboard, like an ad for car insurance.
Instead of simply thanking veterans twice a year FOR THEIR SERVICE, let's turn that phrase around and be IN SERVICE to veterans throughout the entire year. Here are some opportunities:
We are the land of the free because of the brave, so let's each do a little more for them.
Carl Ficks helps athletes and aspiring athletes set and achieve their goals. He once could not run two miles without stopping, but has since run and cycled thousands of miles and competed in dozens of road and bike races of all shapes, sizes and distances, from three to 100 miles. Carl moved to Berlin in the 4th grade but later ran away to practice law in New Britain for many years. He's also a proud member of The Generale Ameglio Society. When you're ready to get back in the game, go to carlficks.com.