Veteran’s Day has always been the holiday for the “old guys;” those guys in their Vietnam War Vet baseball caps, with leather jackets and old Army unit patches; or the even older World War II vets, with their walkers and slow shuffles. There are not many of them left, God bless ’em.
Veteran’s Day was also about saying “thank you” to a vet, for their service. Maybe vets in church were asked to stand, so they could be acknowledged. Maybe a vet got a free meal at a local Applebees, or there might have been a cookout at a VFW post. You know, no big fuss.
Then Veteran’s Day started to change. All the sudden, the day became about younger guys; guys that had served in Fallujah, or Ramadi, or Qandahar, or Nuristan. It was for guys (and women!) who might now be in college, back from the war; or guys missing limbs, because we are so much better nowadays at saving people on the battlefield. It is still for those older guys, but these newer ones are now stepping forward, too.
Veteran’s Day has become contemporary, and something that we as a society are forced to reassess, and even redefine. Suddenly, elementary schools are doing plays, presentations, and assemblies that honor their veteran parents. Many more restaurants are offering discounts. Stories on the nightly news are now focusing on the new generation of war vets. These stories inevitably entail guys and ladies recovering from traumatic injuries, or navigating through the VA health system.
Suddenly, a new generation of veteran-politicians has also begun to emerge, and none too soon. Who knows, maybe soon we will reverse the trend of veterans disappearing from our government. Slowly, over the last 13 years, we have come to realize that we have a large disparity in our country, of people who have served (1% is always the figure thrown around, although I have no idea if that is accurate), and those that have not.
Suddenly, the rest of society is starting to realize that we can no longer just pay lip service to Veteran’s Day. It cannot be another of those holidays with a mattress sale and a short, obligatory news story about the “significance” of the day. The holiday needs to be treated with a new-found respect.
We have done a pretty good job of making this transition. Veterans today — young and old — are acknowledged, appreciated, and respected. Their issues are addressed in the media, at least sometimes: poor health care, depression, suicide, and struggles to find post-service employment. Veterans get the sense (at least, I do) that society is trying to wrap its head around our new generation of young warriors.
There is a realization that we are living in the midst of a new distinguished generation. The “Greatest Generation” moniker has already been taken, but these young people who stepped forward after 9/11/2001 deserve a name, too. They are The Atlas Generation. They are not being punished by a vengeful Zeus, but like Atlas shouldering the heavens and the Earth, they have assumed the task of holding our collective security upon their shoulders. They are a small group of young men and women who deserve our thanks, and our reverence. We have chosen not to force our citizens to serve our nation, because enough volunteer, and that is fine. I am thankful that we have a select few who are brave enough and honorable enough to volunteer. Veteran’s Day is now their day, as much as it is America’s.