Veterans: The foundation of courage and sacrifice

Shelagh Thompson

In today’s world of “fluid definitions” and the hijacking of language to strip it of meaning, it’s easy to get confused about certain expressions and their significance.

One word that can’t be compromised or revised is a word that also arouses a certain amount of reverence – duly deserved– and that word is Veteran.

So what exactly is a Veteran? The simplistic definitions revolve around “an experienced person who has been through many battles; someone who has given long service; a person who has served in the armed forces.” Those are concise explanations of the meaning, but in the larger picture there is a plethora of what it means to be a Veteran.

To be a Veteran means that at one time you left everything familiar to you: your family, friends, home, hobbies, pets and everything that was special and meaningful to you. You entered the military not knowing that it would be both the hardest thing you would ever do, and places you in the most noble act of service America offers.

To be a Veteran means something different to every individual that joins the military. It means being screamed at in an octave you’ve never heard before the minute you step off the bus and line up on the yellow footprints painted on the concrete. It means itchy wool blankets, sleepless nights, aching muscles, rigid discipline, homesickness, encouraging buddies to “hang in there,” and needing the same; pride, exhaustion, exhilaration and the pride and gratification of achieving goals you never believed possible.

It means steering a five-ton truck on the first day of a ground war and wondering what the little black things are in the small craters all around you. It means shuffling mountains of paperwork only to find more paperwork and deadlines day after day. It means endless hours on your knees and back swimming in grease and oil, trying to repair a vehicle that didn’t quite make it through some of those small craters. It means patching up combat soldiers in the field far from sterile conditions; or writing down his last, dying words to his family. It means being assigned to drive the commanding officer around when you know he can drive himself, or cook for hundreds of empty-bellied soldiers that complain about the food but eat it anyway. It means delivering the Dear John letter to the young soldier out on the battleground that ends up taking his own life.

To be a veteran means years of mental, physical and emotional stress, and sometimes traveling to a strange town, knocking on a stranger’s door and delivering the devastating news that their soldier won’t be coming home. It means folding the flag in 13 precise folds and handing it to a young wife at a military funeral while she holds her newborn baby. It means doing a lot of things that you simply do not want to do. It means walking near a college campus while being mocked and sometimes even threatened, and it means sometimes coming home unable to make the transition back to the life of a civilian.

But to be a veteran is also about extreme sacrifice. It means love of country and freedom, and having the privilege to be the guardian and protector of both. Serving in the military is an honorable and noble cause, deserving of the utmost respect and appreciation.

For some, Veterans Day might just another federal holiday. But for many, it is a day of reflection, gratitude and conversation. We should honor our veterans by reflecting on the significance of their service, conveying our gratitude in meaningful and personal ways, and opening up conversations that will allow them to talk about the memories they wish to recall without forcing them to relive memories they want to avoid.

There are not adequate words to express “thank you” that meets the enormity of the priceless act of serving our country. There are no tributes, commemorations or praises that can genuinely match the magnitude of the service and sacrifice of our veterans. As a grateful nation, all we can do is show our appreciation by honoring our veterans and work to ensure the promise of America is within the reach of those who have proudly protected her.

Veterans: our country’s greatness is built on the foundation of your courage and sacrifice. We are forever grateful to you.


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