This Sunday, November 11, is Veterans Day. A day of reflection, Veterans Day represents an opportunity to recognize and honor the service and sacrifice of the generations of military veterans who have worn the cloth of our nation. Our politicians will give speeches, communities will host parades, and we’ll dress ourselves in plenty of red, white and blue—and then, it will be over. And then, Monday will come.
On this Veterans Day, it is my hope that all Americans—politicians, plumbers, homemakers, and hedge fund managers—commit to something bigger than a parade, or a bumper sticker, or a ‘day.’ Instead, it is my hope that Veterans Day 2012 represents an opportunity for all Americans to make a commitment to each other, and to engaged citizenship.
I say this because Veterans Day falls on the heels of a divisive and polarizing election for the nation’s highest office. Many, on both sides of the political aisle, admit that they can’t recall a time when the nation was so ideologically fractured. Healing those fractures, for the greater good of the nation, is an imperative and the responsibility of all Americans. So what does this have to do with Veteran’s Day, you might ask? Everything.
Over the past 10 years, a small minority of Americans have shouldered the burden of a decade at war, on behalf of the majority. I know these men and women well, and they didn’t go to war for a political party or an ideology. Instead, they served and sacrificed for their neighbors, their teammates, their teachers, and for their families. As Gen. Patton said, “the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.”
It was not too long ago that I met a young Marine who had lost both of his legs, and his left arm, to an IED in Afghanistan. That IED changed the course of this young man’s life in a profoundly traumatic way, but when I talked to him about his plans for the future, I was struck by how humble and dismissive he was of his sacrifice. He talked about his future, of his big plans. He talked about doing his duty as a Marine, and as a citizen. As tears welled in his eyes, he talked to me about how proud and blessed he was to be an American.
Without a shadow of a doubt, I know that this young man didn’t serve and sacrifice for a ‘red state’ America, or a ‘blue state’ America. This young man shed his blood for his teammates, his country, and his fellow citizens. This is not to say that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines don’t have and deserve their own political belief systems and values. However, it is to say that the culture of the military is such that while individual differences are acknowledged and even celebrated, a higher purpose– the ideal of citizenship and service—transcends what divides them, in a way that unifies their purpose and actions. This is what Veterans Day has to teach us. This is what Veterans Day has to do with politics.
It is my hope that on this Veterans Day, reflection on the selfless service and profound sacrifice of this young Marine—as well as the countless others who have worn the uniform of our nation through times of war and peace—will serve as an opportunity for all Americans to see a path to something bigger than ‘red states’ and ‘blue states.’
Let the example of our veterans represent an illustration of how we can bridge our differences and unite as Americans. This is the best gift we could bestow upon our veterans, because this is how we do honor to their service.
Mike Haynie, Ph.D.
U.S Air Force Veteran
Executive Director, Founder
Institute for Veterans and Military Families