I originally wrote and posted this piece on November 11, 2013. I decided to share it again, with a few minor edits (namely, references to my uncle, Lavern, another veteran and good man our family has lost recently).
It was originally a celebration of the Armistice, the temporary cessation of hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in World War I, It went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars,” even though World War I didn’t officially end until months later.
In 1926, Congress passed a resolution to have American flags displayed on all government buildings and schools across the country, and encouraged the public to do the same. In 1938, Armistice Day became a legal holiday.
After World War II and Korea proved that World War I wasn’t the “war to end all wars,” the name of this 11th day of the 11th month was renamed Veteran’s Day.
This is where the history lesson ends because I’m not qualified to provide more than that. I’ll admit that I have a passing knowledge of wars and the military. And part of me is ashamed I’m not more well-read on those topics. I’ll also admit that, in my heart, I wish we didn’t need a Veteran’s Day, because I wish we didn’t need massive forces to protect us and our allies around the world. I certainly wish we didn’t have to put folks in harm’s way. Also, I don’t believe I could ever serve in such capacity. Admittedly and humbly, I don’t have what it takes. But I’m glad others do. Check that, I’m not glad, I'm grateful that others do, but still wish they didn't have to.
My father was one of those brave folks. Don Haznaw served in the South Pacific near the end of World War II. I never really knew what happened to him or what he did over there in the latter stages of the war, in what was known as the “Army of the Occupation.” When I was younger, I simply thought he was with a group deployed to basically turn out the lights and shut the doors after all the fighting had ended. I've come to find out that wasn't true at all.
After he died in late 2000, I heard bits and pieces, read a little bit about what happened during that part of the war and saw some photos that made me believe things weren’t that simple for him and his fellow soldiers. It appears he had seen battle, and consequently, witnessed and did things that no one should ever have to see or do; things he probably never figured he’d have to do, or that he was even capable of doing. And it scarred him, like it did so many others
When I was a kid, and even today, I always thought there were two ways for someone like me to honor our veterans: to make a donation and wear a Buddy Poppy or to personally say "thank you" when you encountered a veteran.
Over the years, I've accepted a poppy and worn it, and I've thanked many veterans as well, often perfect strangers. At first, it might seem strange, but believe me, never have any of these folks wondered what I was talking about. They were humble and gracious, and frankly, grateful that someone recognized their commitment and their sacrifice.
Maybe part of the reason I go out of my way to thank veterans is because I didn’t thank my father or my uncle, Lavern, often enough for their service, and now, I can't because they're both gone. I didn’t take time to ask my dad what his experience was like, what he had endured or how it changed his life forever (though he probably wouldn’t have shared much anyway).
And now, I can’t. And that is quickly becoming the case for our World War II, Korean War and Vietnam vets. They are leaving us, many without being recognized for what they sacrificed.
These people, along with those thousands who have served and fought in more recent conflicts and wars, deserve our humble thanks. For all the publicity veterans have gotten with college and NFL teams making huge spectacles over the weekend, I believe the true impact, the meaningful stuff, comes from a simple face-to-face encounter, a "thank you" from civilian to soldier.
After all, these people didn’t enter the military because it was glamorous, for accolades or applause. They didn't figure to be recognized in stadiums and arenas. Hell, some -- like my dad -- didn’t want to go at all; they were drafted.
It happened to my brother, Mark, too. I can still remember the day he left for boot camp, a Vietnam-era draftee. To use his words, he was “scared shitless,” hoping, as we all did, that his number wouldn’t be called to serve in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Lucky for him, and our family, he never saw the battlefield. I can’t imagine how his life – or ours – would be different if he had.)
So please, don’t pass up the opportunity to reach out to a veteran every chance you get with a simple "thank you for your service," regardless of whether you agree with any of the political, economic or human reasons behind military action. They’ll appreciate it. I know my dad and Lavern did, and still would today if they were here with us.
© 2013 David R. Haznaw