Veterans Days… plural. Tomorrow, November 11th, is Veterans Day, while today is Veterans Day (observed). The reason for the duplication is not to double up on our salute to veterans, but rather to give certain employees a day off, per their employment agreement.
When you think about it though, days isn’t a bad idea. But why stop at two? How about 365? Every day on our calendar is one in which we can, and should, honor our veterans.
We have a lot of “days” these days. And with that preponderance of dates when we celebrate something of significance, or of little significance, we tend to water down the value of those days that really do deserve our consideration. When everything and everyone gets a day, our respectful voices often amount to little more than lip-service.
Our salute to veterans should never suffer such a fate. There is no greater testimony to patriotism than military service. It’s not lip-service to say, “All gave some… some gave all.” That’s simply factual acknowledgment of what thousands of men and women have done for our nation.
Admittedly, we’ve come a long way since our soldiers returned from Vietnam to a less-than warm welcome. By the time that war ended, most Americans had soured on our drawn-out military presence in Southeast Asia, and rather than holding our leaders accountable, we took it out on the people least deserving of our contempt.
It took a few years, but we eventually realized that the guy slogging through a neck-high swamp hoping to avoid enemy fire, or the combat nurse treating mortal wounds, both mental and physical, represented the best of the red, white, and blue. And today, Vietnam vets routinely, and sincerely, get the “thank you for your service” they so richly deserve.
I mention Vietnam because it’s the war that caused our citizenry to question the government’s rush to senseless engagement. Never again would we sacrifice more than 50,000 lives for a cause we couldn’t define. And as far as I can tell, that’s the only good thing that came out of Vietnam.
Full disclosure, I never served in any military capacity, and I’m thankful every day that I was just young enough to avoid Uncle Sam’s invitation to spend a year in the far east, toting an M-16, just trying to survive.
On the other hand, the value of military service, and how it shapes one’s life and world view, is something I regret not having. I hold my friends who served in high regard, and envy the experience that helped make them the citizens they are today.
There are currently more than 18 million living veterans in the United States, most of those, almost 8 million, having served during and since the Gulf War, while 5.6 million wore the uniform during the Vietnam era. At the same time, there are around 750,000 who served during the Korean War of the early 1950’s, and now fewer than 120,000 veterans of World War II.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1980, about 18% of U.S. adults were veterans, but that share fell to just 6% in 2022, which just makes that group of citizens even more elite.
Though we often decry the lack of resources available to our veterans, it should be noted that there are many programs, both local and national, that address veteran issues. For example, Michael Rutledge, Coordinator of Student Veteran Services at NMU, says there are a number of ways the university works with student veterans.
“We assist student veterans in obtaining and managing all available federal, state, and local benefits; this includes not only VA education benefits but also VA health care, disability compensation, VA guaranteed home loans and many others.”
Rutledge also suggests how we can help as well. “Please encourage veterans to reach out to anyone in the veteran services community in Marquette if they need assistance with anything. We have a nationally recognized network in the area and there are very few needs which someone can’t fill, and anyone in the network can direct veterans to a resource very quickly.”
To no one’s surprise, it turns out veterans make pretty good employees too. According to Debb Brunell, CEO of Upper Peninsula Michigan Works, “We love to hire veterans! We give all veterans priority of service and do our best to ensure they are successful in whatever career they choose to pursue.”
There are always exceptions, but Brunell says, “A veteran is someone who will get the job done and will do it right.” I guess once you’ve gone through everything from boot camp to combat, a nine-to-five job where nobody’s shooting at you seems quite do-able.
Our aging veterans, many of whom are residents of Marquette’s Jacobetti Home for Veterans, are also afforded a level of respect commensurate with their service. Ron Oja, facility Administrator, is on the front lines of veteran care. “I have immense gratitude for the sacrifices made by our veterans and the tremendous sacrifices made by their family members to support them. Their service and sacrifice serve as a reminder of the enduring spirit of America.
“I’m also overwhelmed by the outpouring of support shown to the veteran residents on Veterans Day, and throughout the year, and it highlights just how patriotic and generous this community is.”
Along those lines, our local American Legion Post 44 is always there for area veterans and their families. Feel free to stop in tomorrow (Saturday) and personally thank a veteran. While you’re there, you might find a way to help that organization serve our veteran population… on Veterans Day and beyond.
This year, the American Legion Auxiliary will be delivering baskets to all our veterans in area nursing homes and shelters. Each veteran was given a wish list and the auxiliary did their best to fill the baskets and include something special for each recipient.
Though it’s just the program’s first year, co-chair Kellie Hillier-Genschaw, says it’s already a success. “The Auxiliary allocated funds for the event and also raised money by holding a “Stuff the Baskets” event that took place last month. A dinner at the Legion was held – folks made a donation – and many brought items to include in the baskets. We plan on making this an even bigger event next year!”
Leo Smith, Post 44 Commander, served in Vietnam in the early 70’s. Like many who shared that experience, he keeps much of it to himself, investing his time not in reliving the past, but rather working today on behalf of his fellow veterans.
“I’m proud of my service time, even though I believe we didn’t belong over there. I feel very fortunate to have come home. So many didn’t. And now, being very active in the American Legion, it means a lot to me to help serve all veterans.”
Today and tomorrow, and every day in which we live free in the greatest nation on earth, let’s remember to honor our veterans… who, through their sacrifice, have made it possible. Salute!