I’m a veteran, a disabled one, representing 25% of the 18 million living veterans today, which is just a mere 5% of our nation’s population. This day of tribute traces its origins to Nov. 11, 1919, Armistice Day and the first anniversary of the end of World War I, a war my grandfather Lloyd served in. Our nation set aside this day to honor all veterans, living or dead, but especially to give thanks to the living who serve or served our country honorably during war or peacetime.
I’m often asked do I miss the life. My response is always, more than you will ever know. I loved the soldier’s life, not every day, but almost every day! There is no more incredible feeling than knowing you are on a winning team, first among all nations, securing our country’s vital interests worldwide. Think of that! Less than 1% of our countrymen serve, and yet their presence on the front line of democracy, globally, is what keeps the greatest nation and her ideals on Earth preserved!
As veterans, we’ve got a brother or sister in every town, no matter branch of service, which we can immediately relate to. We’re part of a band of brothers and sisters who served, served the greatest nation on Earth, resolute in democracy, and grounded in ideals brought forth by our founding fathers 200 years ago.
As veterans, we know what it’s like on your first day of boot camp. Feeling anxious and uncertain about what you had gotten yourself into. Taking in the barking guidance of the drill sergeant to get our acts together or get out of this Army, because the Army only wants the best, the very best, and that’s true for every service!
As veterans, we know what it’s like to go on extended field training exercises where the sergeant’s job is to inspire you to survive in a hostile and lethal environment, under a code of conduct subscribed to by very few others. Words like duty, honor, country, selfless service, integrity, loyalty, respect, and personal courage are lived out in the day-to-day life of a man or woman in uniform.
As veterans, we know what it’s like to laugh so hard with other paratroopers who went through an all-night airborne operation, bone-tired and punch-drunk with fatigue, after jumping in 15-knot winds to a heavily wooded drop zone and discovering all escaped injury. The macabre military humor of completing the mission and escaping death.
As veterans, we know what it’s like the first time you deploy to a combat zone and all the thoughts running through your mind. What if I don’t survive? Did I tell my wife, kids and parents that I love them? Did I leave anything undone that I should have mended before I departed? Will I be courageous and honor my fellow soldiers’ commitment that I will always cover their back? Will I do my duty and pull the trigger when confronting the enemy?
As veterans, we know what it’s like to make decisions that place others in harm’s way, asking them to risk their lives to accomplish the mission, inspiring and encouraging the troops to work through the dichotomy of engaging and defeating the enemy while helping and saving the innocent.
As veterans, we know what it’s like to see one of yours succumb to the horrors of combat and having to deliver the news to the trooper’s loved ones. Eulogizing his acts of bravery and assuring his family and friends that his death came with meaning and purpose, vowing never to forget. Bracing for the sound of taps and rendering a final salute standing at attention in a cloud of sadness with his fellow troopers. Then, after the ceremony concludes, trekking to a dingy bar with your paratroopers, drinking, laughing, remembering, and paying tribute to your comrade’s passing.
As veterans, we know what it’s like to return after deployment and try to assimilate in this world, a world so different than the one many of us came from where the challenge of the day was surviving a night patrol through a hostile village, dodging snipers, improvised explosive devices, and suicide bombers. Now we’re confronted with madding traffic, 24-hour news cycles, everyone texting, posting, tweeting, snap chatting anything and everything that comes to mind. We’re reluctant to talk about our experiences because unless you were there, we fear you won’t understand that the world we came from is so different from this world.
As veterans, we’ve experienced the joy in homecomings, embracing loved ones, feeling the warmth of belonging to a family nucleus with so much opportunity yet to be lived. Then being given notice, your unit is on orders once again to serve. The rituals we go through to deploy, a farewell ceremony, tears of sadness, but pride, oh so much pride, by husbands, wives, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, and of course friends, sending their warriors off to do the country’s will.
As veterans, the lenses we look through depict a different world, a divided one. There is us, America, in all its brilliance and beauty. Then there is every place we have been, where oppression and poverty run rampant. Life and liberty are nothing but a dream. Child abandonment and mortality are widespread. Of all nations globally, our country is sought out by the less fortunate as a place of freedom, dignity, respect and opportunity. All ideals we believe are worth fighting and dying for.
As veterans, we’re disappointed by our country’s division, the scarcity of courage among our political leaders to do the right thing, their reluctance to compromise, their lack of respect for diverse ideas, and the unwillingness to engage in thoughtful discourse to better our nation.
As veterans, we’re humbled by all the expressions of gratitude for our time in service. Still, most important, we’re grateful to you and our country for allowing us to lead women and men of multi-generations, religions, ethnicities and races. All considered the best and brightest, the dedicated and selfless, the patriotic and committed, and undoubtedly the most tenacious and courageous our country has to offer.
So, as Americans, on this day, where we pay tribute to those who have served, understand when you see tears well up in veterans’ eyes during the national anthem or the passing of the colors, it’s because this hardy band of sisters and brothers who all took the same oath, a mere 5% of our countrymen, know how great our country is. Indeed, it is the world’s beacon of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, fought for by those veterans, living and dead.
They sacrificed and spilled their blood on the four corners of Earth to defend our precious but fragile experiment, called the American dream. Ideals we are all called to protect and preserve, encapsulated in our United States Constitution, the flesh and bones of our democracy.
Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions.