By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily
Gravesite flowers on Memorial Day, barbecues on Labor Day, social media outrage on Columbus Day — most holidays have their traditions.
But Veterans Day tends to elude veterans and civilians alike.
Despite numerous veterans in my family, including myself, I can’t think of a single instance we even acknowledged Veterans Day.
Perhaps our family is an outlier? So I dialed up some of my old army buddies and asked how they planned to spend Nov. 11.
“What’s that on — a Monday?” asked Victor Varela, a former U.S. Army sergeant who served with me in Iraq. “Yeah, I’m working. I might go have a beer after, I guess.”
All the calls ended similarly and I was left asking what it is we are supposed to celebrate and for who.
Veterans Day is widely viewed as the day to honor the living, while Memorial Day is reserved for honoring the dead, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars website.
Originally dubbed Armistice Day, the holiday was created to honor the conclusion of World War I, which ended Nov. 11, 1918. 1n 1954, Congress renamed the event Veterans Day to honor veterans from World War II, the Korean War and future wars.
Vietnam-era veteran and Laramie resident John Hursh, a former U.S. Marine Corps captain, said celebrating Veterans Day can be as simple as a couple words and a quiet moment.
“Just walk up to a vet and say thanks,” Hursh said. “I think it’s best when someone comes up, looks you in the eye and thanks you for your service.”
Although he doesn’t have plans for anything fancy, Hursh said he has his own way of celebrating.
“I’m going to take a moment for myself,” he said. “It’s time to pause for a while and remember your buddies and think about how you got where you are and be thankful for our country.”
Tim Sheppard, executive director of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, is a retired Army colonel who also served during the Vietnam War. Sheppard has seen many behavioral trends come and go since the late 1960s, but one receiving increased attention in recent years is “Stolen Valor,” the act of lying about military service to garner sympathy or respect.
The fraudulent acts could make some people hesitate before thanking a vet, not knowing if the person’s experiences were genuine. Sheppard said people should look past those rare cases and honor the spirit of the holiday.
“Take the risk and thank the vet,” he said. “Let us police ourselves and we’ll do our best to safeguard the integrity of military service.”
If people don’t know a veteran to thank on Veterans Day, Sheppard suggested observing a moment of silence at the “eleventh minute of the eleventh hour.”
As for me, I still struggle with how best to honor the holiday. I was lucky to serve at a time when soldiers were well-received and have been thanked on numerous occasions for my service. It’s a good feeling, but an awkward one.
My peers were volunteers. We served because we felt it was our duty or because we needed a way out of our situations or for the educational opportunities afforded by the G.I. Bill and sign-on bonuses.
Our country didn’t call on us as much as we stepped forward and asked for the privilege.
It feels self-aggrandizing to celebrate that experience with a national holiday, especially a holiday created to honor those who, in many cases, were not given a choice.
So, I plan to spend this Veterans Day focusing on the experiences of my fellow veterans and what their service has afforded future generations.
Whether you visit your local war memorial, thank a veteran in person or share a quiet moment of reflection, your efforts are what make this country worth serving.