After his active duty with the Air Force, my father then served as a recruiter—talking to young people who were considering enlisting. He worked full-time elsewhere—but as he told me once—the Air Force helped him get started in life and he wanted to help others do the same. Each Veterans Day, he was involved in our local event and knew most of the people who had served.
Honoring veterans became part of my life, too. So, during my freshman year of college, I happily told Dad I was going to a campus Veterans Day event. I was surprised to see so many students already filling the lecture hall. I found a seat in the back.
With military precision, the event started right on time. Despite his age and the crutches clipped to his arms, the vet stood tall. The stage lights reflected off the shiny buttons on his Army uniform. He scanned the crowd. Then he told a story from the frontlines—a battle I visualized through his gruesome details. It had cost him his right leg, and some of his young friends had died that day.
Here was a veteran who had lived through something none of us would hopefully ever see. The room was quiet. While the vet’s vivid recall gave me shivers, the crowd facing him didn’t seem to care. Didn’t it matter that his battle wounds helped our nation or that his Army buddies had died?
Then I heard a voice behind me shouting out an anti-war curse. Emboldened, others added their voices to the chorus. I looked around and saw bitter smirks and heard obnoxious jeers. It became louder and more mean-spirited. It had become a protest not an honorable event. The old veteran turned to the side as if wishing someone, anyone, would silence the crowd. No one did.
He lifted his arm, trying to say more, but he could tell no one cared. He’d been our age once—and unlike those in the audience, he’d volunteered to serve his country. He’d been proud to make it back home since home was worth fighting for.
The young crowd kept chanting. The veteran looked at us and shook his head sadly. I will never forget his expression. He slowly walked away. The Army soldier hadn’t been defeated on a battlefield overseas; defeat had come on a leftist college campus in the nation he’d served.
I was ashamed, even if no one else was. I quickly made my own exit. I wish I had tried to find him and apologize. But I wasn’t nearly as brave as he had been. But on that bitter Veterans Day, I made a promise to always thank vets for their service. They chose to serve, so I could enjoy my freedom. I was 18 then. Now I’m in my 60’s. Those students who were shouting out in that campus lecture hall went on to have careers and freedom—have they appreciated it? Or did they just expect to keep those freedoms?
I wish I could say our nation has learned to appreciate those who choose to serve in our Armed Forces. If we hope to remain a beacon of light in a world that has some evil leaders, we can’t be weak, weary, or unprepared.
There’s a Bible verse in Isaiah 2 predicting a future time: “Nation will not lift up a sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.”
That time is not yet here. Until then, God only knows where any of us would be without the sacrifice of our brave military.
Thank you, veterans, you deserve respect and honor.