The United States military has been in the news a lot lately, from the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” to the Dec. 31 deadline for all troops to return home from the war in Iraq. Such politically charged topics can bring strong opinions to the forefront. But Friday will be the one day when everyone should put their opinions aside to honor the nation’s veterans and active-duty service members and give them the respect that they deserve.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009 there were roughly 22 million veterans in the country. Of those, about 9 million were 65 or older while about 1.7 million were younger than 35. The largest portion, about 7.6 million, served during the Vietnam era between 1964 and 1975. From there, about 4.5 million have served during the Gulf War era, from August 1990 to present, while 2.3 million served in World War II and 2.7 million served in the Korean War.
That is a lot of people – and a lot of war. Those who have served or are still serving have seen and experienced things the average American can scarcely imagine. And the sacrifices they make to be available for the call of duty are equally as difficult to comprehend. Technology like video chat has likely made deployment somewhat more bearable in recent years, but few civilians can know what it’s like to have to leave your family behind for months or years at a time, often not knowing when you’ll get to see them – in person – again.
And even coming home can have its own set of obstacles to overcome – it’s not always as simple as unpacking your bags and just getting back into the swing of things. Many service members come back changed by their experiences and adjusting to day-to-day life can be challenging.
So regardless of your politics or how you might feel about what’s going on with military policy these days, please remember that our nation’s service members have made or are making sacrifices that you will hopefully never have to make. And while it should be done every day, at least this Friday, please, if you see a veteran or active-duty service member, shake their hand, look them in the eye and say “thank you.”