Walk the walk, not just talk the talk

I know I have touched on this subject before, but I believe it is worthy of revisiting every so often because it is so important to our individual communities as well as our national framework.

This year, Memorial Day is celebrated on Monday, May 29.

Originally called Decoration Day in 1868 after the Civil War to honor those who fell on both sides of the conflict by decorating the gravesites, it was not until 1967 that the tradition was officially called Memorial Day and made a national holiday. Memorial Day as we know it is set aside as a day to honor all those men and women who “Made the ultimate sacrifice” in the defense of our country.

How sad it is that many in our society have so little grasp of the pain and suffering endured by millions of family members of those lost veterans that they treat it like any other holiday where they can eat, drink and be merry.

In virtually every community in our rural counties there are a few folks, and I mean very few, who work hard at trying to provide proper honor to those who died in service and also to those who served and are no longer with us.

To me, this tragedy of apathy is just a glaring symptom of a greater lack in the spirit of caring by a great portion of our society about the freedoms we enjoy.

Are citizens getting to the point that they think our way of life just happened because they are such wonderful people? Have they actually forgotten that every single freedom and advantage we enjoy was paid for by the blood of someone clear back to the war of independence? Veterans — don’t think we are off the hook by a long shot.

If we don’t stand up and lead the way by example and continue to fulfill that oath we took then who is going to? The two oldest veterans organizations in this country are the Veteran of Foreign Wars, circa 1899, and the American Legion, circa 1919.

In a nutshell, the mission of both organizations is to help veterans and promote patriotism through education, albeit with slightly different focus.

As quoted in part from the VFW website, “The purpose of the VFW is to speed rehabilitation of the nation’s disabled and needy veterans, assist veterans’ widows and orphans and the dependents of needy or disabled veterans, and promote Americanism by means of education.”

American Legion literature describes their focus: “In addition to organizing commemorative events, volunteer veterans operating through the American Legion support activities and provide assistance at Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics. The legion is active in issue-oriented United States politics. Its primary political activity is lobbying on behalf of interests of veterans and service members.”

The legion played the leading role in drafting and passing the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, otherwise known as the “GI Bill,” the recognition of illnesses due to Agent Orange and is a major contributor to treatments for PTSD. Both the VFW and AL are challenging perceptions that they don’t appeal to the younger generation of war fighters.

“I’m not going to go to the VFW or the legion and drink and smoke cigarettes,” said one female veteran, who served eight years in the Army Reserves. “I want to be out in my community.”

Unfortunately, perceptions like that usually come from conversations with “grandpa” veterans who had that experience and haven’t been active in veterans organizations or the community for quite some time. Every veteran should be active in the community and in an organization that serves veterans.

As for your patriotic non-vets it’s time for you to step up and walk the walk not just talk the talk.

Recently I read an article by a Marine veteran that had some of the same concerns I’ve experienced. In his words, “Supporting veterans, there has been a groundswell of vocalization in recent years about supporting our veterans. You hear it from politicians, you see it on the news, in newspapers and especially on Facebook and other social media.”

He goes on to say, “ It has been wonderful to watch the apparent transition from the vile nasty reception of returning troops from the Vietnam era to the cheers and rave reviews offered after Desert Storm and ensuing conflicts.”

“My first thought was that America had finally come to the realization that soldiers, from any branch, don’t create wars, they simply offer several years of their life to serve their country in whatever capacity the country deems appropriate.”

Then, as it has for me, it started to sink in for this Marine that other than the verbal tribute not a whole lot has actually changed. In the last few years I have heard the “Thank you for your service” phrase many times, especially during veteran related holidays. There have been times it was used so much that it almost seemed cliché, as if the person couldn’t think of anything else to say.

There’s an old adage that says, “Actions speak louder that words.” So, if you truly mean what you say and in fact want to thank and honor a veteran for the sacrifice they and their family made, here’s a few things to consider.

Volunteer your time. There isn’t a veteran organization around that can’t use some extra manpower.

Write a check. There are countless veteran organizations that could use some extra cash for programs that help wounded warriors or help veterans assimilate back into society.

Use a veteran speaker. There’s a reason people say that someone was telling “war stories.” Veterans have great insight into leadership, crisis management and personal grit. The next time you’re planning a corporate event, inspirational or educational speaker, consider using a speaker who served in the military.

Earmark your donations. If you donate money to your alma mater, consider earmarking your donations specifically to support programs and services supporting veterans. Also consider contributing to scholarships at your university that are set aside specifically for veterans.

Hire a veteran. If you work in any kind of management position, you can help your business or nonprofit improve its veteran hiring practices. Hire a military spouse or caregiver. Supporting military families is as important as supporting veterans themselves.

Consider hiring military spouses or caregivers at your next job opening. They are often incredibly talented, educated and professional.

Offer your expertise. You know the old saying “time is money.” Instead of just giving cash, you could also give some of your time to a veterans group. Think about which skills you have from your job that might be beneficial. Whether you work in construction, culinary arts, office management or marketing, your skills can help many veteran organizations.

So, from all the veterans, and communities out there that are served by veterans, we look forward to hearing new footsteps.