Veterans Day Reflections: Service and Sacrifice; Gratitude and Community


Veterans Day  provides opportunities to ponder big issues

Today we celebrate Veterans Day, at a time of national division.  We do so when the president flew half way around the world to commemorate the end of World War I. He then chose to sit out the first ceremony. Because it was raining.

We could use a little reflection on what Veterans Day means. Herewith, my take on it.

Service: We live in a society with oddly mixed motivations. Volunteerism is, in many places and for many causes, at near record levels. Younger generations are making a mark in volunteer service. And yet, we are in many aspects of our lives resolutely individualistic. People seem ready to serve, but often only on their own terms.

Military veterans have a service experience that is rather different. Their’s is service  to a larger cause and service for much longer time. This is a much more all-consuming commitment than most people experience. Most people, in candor, cannot imagine what this kind of service entails. This is not unique to the military. First responders live in this paradigm to a large degree as well.

So, the next time you say “Thank you for your service” to someone, reflect on the unique level of service being acknowledged.

I have to admit that as a veteran, I sometimes feel a bit awkward receiving words of appreciation. In part, it’s because I fear it has become little more than a common greeting for many. This may not be much more than “Have a nice day.”  I can only hope the words spoken come with some honest reflection.

I also feel a bit awkward because I feel like it was a privilege to serve. We all have opportunities, large and small, to serve, almost every day in some fashion. To seize that opportunity on a large scale is a gift for those who serve as well.

Sacrifice: I would not speak for other veterans. But I know that many of us do reflect less on service than on sacrifice. This is difficult to communicate to others. I have mentioned in this space before my undying admiration for military families. They are the living embodiment of sacrifice.

Thier’s is a life of constant change, of repeated risk. They know that at any moment, one member of the family could disappear for weeks or months – or forever. Imagine raising a family with that factor constantly present. The service member in the family is here helping make a family unit today, then gone, then back again, over and over. That so many do it and do it well is awe inspiring. That they willingly do it knowing what is ahead of them is almost unimaginable.

Service members, especially those in the combat arms, understand the choices they have made could mean their lives might end abruptly. Those who choose the military for any length of time come to a unique equilibrium in dealing with this. No one wants to have that card called, but few have any illusions that it “won’t happen to me.” Luck, skill, good leadership, and the opposing forces all get a vote on whose card gets called today.

Deciding to deal with this for years at a time is both a sacrifice and a state of grace. I don’t know how we could communicate about this to others. It is a component of that life-long bonding so often seen among veterans. No one else has this experience in the same way.

Gratitude: As noted earlier, people often express thanks for service to others. Allow me to make a simple suggestion. If you are genuinely grateful for someone’s service, do two things in addition to saying thanks.

First, reflect a bit on what that level of service might mean. See if you might find in yourself some similar level of service to offer.

Two, actually pay it forward. Find some act, some gesture, some commitment – long or short-lived – to serve others. Do it because someone else served and you felt called by their example. You might want to make this a habit. Trust me, if feels good.

Community: To note that our country is in a state of division would be an understatement. We all see this every day. We might consider service and sacrifice as an unacknowledged element of community that we should acknowledge more often than we do. It is a well of community that might slack some of our thirst to share more in common.

The police officer or fireman that come to my rescue may have radically different views and values than I hold. But they are here to serve the community. No questions asked. Jewish doctors and medical specialists treated the man who recently killed so many in a Pennsylvania synagogue. There are people who serve their fellow citizens in hundreds of ways major and minor. Most would not want to know the answers to questions of values and politics.

This is humanity, in service to each other. More of that mindset, please.

A good Veterans Day to you, one and all.

                                                              Bill Clontz

If you find this blog worthy of your time and curiosity, I invite you to do three things (one is new for this particular post):

(1) Join the conversation. Your voice counts here.

(2) Share the word about this post with friends and colleagues. Share a link in your emails and social media posts. Let’s grow our circle.

(3) Share this post with a veteran and ask her or him what this day means to them. How do they reflect on their service and sacrifice? What do they want you to know that is important?


2 replies to Veterans Day Reflections: Service and Sacrifice; Gratitude and Community

  1. Bill, that so many people dedicate their very lives to our freedom is indeed awe inspiring. I have always felt uncomfortable knowing what to say on Memorial Day. I see so many people in uniform in my neighborhood when I walk my dog.

    A year back, I made the terrible mistake of saying “Happy Memorial Day” to a service member. He kindly replied, “There’s no such thing.” “You’re right, I said.”

    I thanked him for his service. And he showed me around his outdoor workshop where he was carving animal sculptures from logs. Very special experience. Thank you for reminding us that service people need to be acknowledged for their sacrifice and for their full humanity.

    • Thanks for a very human story, Joanne. Love it when a chance encounter like that becomes a real conversation between people. Glad you shared this with us.

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