Honoring veterans by listening

Remembering veterans and those we loved

Someone spoke on NPR recently about how military personnel were treated differently in earlier wars than they were during Vietnam and are now. He said we are more likely now to distinguish between those who serve in the armed forces and the nature of the war or deployment. For example, he said, we might not like the prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we don’t blame the men and women serving there.

I remember not being able to make that distinction during the Vietnam war. I am glad my generation stood up against the war, and I was among them. Yet, so many who served there did so either because they believed in the war’s premise or because they had no choice, given their draft numbers and economic circumstances. We could have been more supportive of those in the military then while still opposing the war.

I regret not asking my father more about his World War II service as a medic in Germany. Many people have written about the reluctance of people who served in that war to talk about it. They served, returned and got on with their lives. For the most part, that’s what my father wanted to do. My youngest sister learned much more about his experiences, which included moments of true courage and honor. His valiant actions won him a Purple Heart, and he stood up for enlisted men in a way that still makes me proud.

A contributor to the NPR Veterans Day feature noted that people in the armed services want to be asked where they served or are serving and want the opportunity to talk about their experiences.

Asking and listening are things we all can do.

Two years ago, my sister Liz and her husband, George Schott, took our father’s ashes to Massachusetts National Cemetery, where veterans who meet certain criteria can be laid to rest.

A stone marker there is inscribed with a quotation from John Kennedy. The quotation says a lot about what we value as a country:

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men we remember.

I am certain that if Kennedy said those words today, he would have said “men and women.”

Regardless, those words also seem pertinent to ongoing discussions about Confederate statues. If we reveal ourselves in who we honor and remember, what do the statues reveal about us?
Barbara


The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

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