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Veteran’s Have a Day…and a Life Time To Live It - By Dr. Mike Colson

This Veteran’s Day season I had the privilege to be part of five different public observances. I was a speaker at two large universities and two colleges, and sat as a spectator with my two sons at an elementary school in Washington State. Each event made an attempt to represent veterans. Some even succeeded in doing so without waving their proverbial political “Maggie’s drawers”. One speaker started by explaining the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, making the point that all of us who survive combat know instinctively: Memorial Day is for heroes. We all know that “heroes” are those who did not return. They are not people who do a job, do something for personal gain, or even complete a difficult task. How can I as a returned veteran compare my experience to the nearly 4000 who have made a supreme sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Simply put…we cannot. But we still have a day.

I was surprised to learn that many Vietnam veterans – men and women that we as new combat veterans owe a tremendous debt of gratitude – will go to great lengths to stay away from these observances. In probing this action I further learned that they just do not feel welcome. No doubt, this is the experiential and chemical response ingrained in them as they returned home to an American population divided on the war and her warriors. I sense we, Global War on Terror warriors, are much more fortunate. People care. Organizations reach out. We can get care if we seek it. Vietnam veteran’s fought twice. Once in the jungles of Southeast Asia and again, at home fighting for care and legislation and support favorable to veterans. Their work saved at least one life…mine.

But I digress. Let me get back at the various Veterans’ Day observances and the one that moved me to tears. Sitting through the usual speeches and patriotic songs, the students at Sunnyside Elementary School in Marysville, Washington paused for a moment of silence. I perfunctorily bowed my head. And then the children – some 700 of them – began to sing to the veterans present. Not the shuffling, lumbering, forced singing often heard at school recitals, but loud, emotive, and clear words of praise for all veterans. I was shocked into crying and am sure I embarrassed myself. But it should be noted that these K-5th grade students gave to veterans their all. No holds barred. No discrimination with regard to our type of service, branch, gender, or motivation. Just a resonant multi-voice thank you directed at those who THEY KNOW rate being appreciated.

We might not be heroes. We are, though, veterans. And, we have a day for a lifetime.

I can LIVE with that.