Because Of The Brave

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 our smoke detectors.

Thanking our 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 Veterans Day. And that’s about it. 

Veterans Day 2020 has just come and gone. 

Like clockwork, vendors pumped out auto-generated emails thanking veterans for their service. 

Highway billboards blared 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 us 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 we hire these veteran businesses?

Do we help veterans find work? 

Do we employ veterans?

Do we provide free medical, dental or legal services for veterans?

Do we drive veterans to their medical appointments if they need rides?

Do we make sure veterans aren’t lonely or isolated?

Do we talk to veterans? Better yet, do we 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 week, two days after Veterans Day.

He was a Marine combat veteran, a warrior who conquered the CRUCIBLE during basic training at Parris Island.

The CRUCIBLE. A 54-hour 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. Fifty-four 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+ miles of marching with 45+ pounds of gear. Over 54 hours.

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 pain, I could endure 90 minutes of temporary discomfort. 

It was no CRUCIBLE, but it was cathartic.

As I pedaled, I thought about the wonderful “Veteran’s 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 during my time in the philanthropic space. 

Mike loved to say “I’m in good shape for the shape I’m in,” a turn of phrase immortalized in Johnny Cash’s “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 10 years ago. And after thanking Joe, proceeded to do absolutely nothing more. 

Joe’s brother delivered a stirring eulogy last week. He said Joe was a great teacher if we just let him teach us.

Does just saying “thank you for your service” make us IN SERVICE to veterans any more than standing in our garage make us 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.

We are the land of the free because of the brave.

Instead of simply thanking the brave twice a year FOR THEIR SERVICE, let’s turn that phrase around and be IN SERVICE to veterans throughout the entire year.

I’m confident we’ll all learn something if we just let them teach us.

So what will you do? Here are some choices:

https://www.loc.gov/vets/kit.html

https://ctveteranslegal.org/

https://vfwct.org/di/vfw/v2/default.asp?nid=1

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