This Veterans Day 2017, I thought I would take it upon myself, for those of you perhaps not familiar with the U.S. veteran community, to provide for you a guide to the different types — or categories — of veterans you might encounter in modern American society.

This guide will of course not be perfect, nor even all-encompassing, but it should suffice as a basic reference for your use as you navigate through the veteran community.  After all, it can be confusing for a civilian out there to know exactly how to honor a veteran on Veterans Day, and it helps to have more to say than “thank you for your service” in the course of your interaction.  Well, you can now read the categories below and add a “where and when did you serve?” to your repertoire, drawing on this guide for background.


The World War II-Korea Veteran (the mythical hero)

This is of course the group of veterans often rightly called the Greatest Generation.  In 2017, they are few and far between and we are losing them at a rapid rate.   They are now elderly, sometimes frail, but always majestic and radiating heroism and resolve.  They are our living museum pieces and flesh-and-blood symbols of Americans as our greatest selves.  They are exemplified by men like George H.W. Bush, and others who shipped off to war as young as 18 and fought to victory against one of the world’s greatest evils, and in one of the harshest climates imaginable in Korea.  It will not be long before we will no longer have them around to thank for their service, and that will be heartbreaking.

The Vietnam Veteran (the elder statesman)

These are the men you will see with their Vietnam Veteran hats, unit patches and expressions of fierce pride for what they did in Southeast Asia for an often thankless populace back here at home.  Their war was often brutal and savage, and fought in some of the toughest conditions in the world.  For so long, these men were unappreciated and misunderstood.  They were stigmatized as representative of an America divided and turned against itself.  Perhaps only now are they universally appreciated for what they did in serving America in one of the most difficult of wars.  They are the deans of today’s veteran corps, and it seems like we as a country have finally come to see them for the heroes they always were.

The Cold War & Gulf War Veteran (the overlooked)