This I have learned…

Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg

I had five uncles who served in World War II, one of whom is buried in France and another who received the Bronze Star. One of my husband’s cousins also served and helped liberate Dachau, and I have a brother and nephew who served—both during the Vietnam War.

In considering “What does Veterans Day mean to you,” I thought it would be interesting to conduct an informal, unscientific pole with people of all ages who live both inside and outside of our community. Here are the results.

Female, age 22: It means we should honor those who served.

Male, age 21: It means honor to those who served our country.

(Note: Neither of the above people knew the date of Veterans Day.)

Female, age 30: To honor those who served.

Male, age 50: I’m not the person to ask. I hate war. I do not like Veterans Day. I protest any war.

Female, age 68: It means to honor and thank those who served. My father and three uncles served in World War II. Two uncles did not return. I had occasion to tour a concentration camp museum while in Germany. I recall the chatter on the bus drive to the museum and the grim silence on the return trip. Thoughts of the museum remind me why it is important to honor all veterans.

Male, age 80, retired military: On Veterans Day, I think of all the hundreds of thousands of patriots who were willing to give their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. I believe each veteran sheds a tear when he hears taps played for their fallen comrades. We are a band of brothers.

Female, age 63, retired military: So many of our holidays memorialize people who are no longer around to hear our thanks. Veterans Day is different. It also gives us a chance to celebrate those still among us who pledged themselves to defend our national interests, and yet came back to be our co-workers, life partners, or maybe parents, all made better citizens through their service.

Male, age 79: I think Veterans Day should be a day of reflection on the futility of war, not a day to watch football, listen to double-dealing politicians, roast hot dogs, and never think for a minute of the suffering and deaths of millions.

Female, age 69: It’s remembrance, but it’s hard to make a simple statement, given the current political atmosphere. My husband went to Vietnam, and he wasn’t a U.S. citizen at the time. He served two years. He lost his best friend there. Years later, our son enlisted and served 21 years. Both are haunted by their military experiences.

Female, age 41, active duty: It is a day to recognize military members, many of whom made the choice to sacrifice predictable lives to protect and defend our way of life. Veterans provide hope through the honor and sacrifice they symbolize.

I reflect upon those who return from serving—especially in remote locations—and who are changed physically or mentally.

I reflect upon their struggles and how we can be more compassionate upon their return.  I also think about the many female veterans who, for many years, did not receive recognition or benefits for having served by supporting the troops during World War I and II, such as nurses, code-breakers, telephone operators and in other critical roles.