BRADENTON – Veterans Day is a national holiday in which we show appreciation to those who have served their country in the armed forces. The holiday dates back to 1919. It was originally called Armistice Day and its date celebrates the German surrender that ended the First World War. In 1954, Congress amended the holiday to be known as Veterans Day to honor all of America's veterans.
For a time, its celebration was moved to the fourth Monday of November as part of the Uniform Holiday Act, but a popular movement won reinstitution of the original date in 1978. Since that time, there has been a trend away from business and school closings in observance of the holiday.
I come from a military family and have been raised to respect both the holiday and its meaning. My paternal grandfather was a Marine who was awarded the Purple Heart after his participation in the Battle of Iwo Jima. According to family folklore, he appears briefly in one of the many photographs shown in a montage at the end of the Clint Eastwood-directed film, Flags of our Fathers.
My maternal grandfather also served in the Army at the tail end of the Second World War and while my father was denied induction for physical impairment, my uncle Bill served as an Air Force Commando with the Combat Controllers during the Grenada Invasion.
After college, I was commissioned as an active duty officer in the Army and had the good fortune to serve during the peacetime of the late 90's. Uncle Bill liked to chide me, pointing out that my jump wings were missing the star on top, the ones given for a combat jump. Being an officer provided him and my Pappy with an endless stream of digs as well.
A few years ago, my closest friend, a clinical psychologist, left his job to take a position in the Veteran's Administration counseling soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He is part of a suicide prevention team deployed to intervene with high-risk vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression. His work and the heart-wrenching cases he encounters are a constant reminder that supporting our armed forces extends beyond our men and women who are presently in harm's way.
Advancements in warfare and medical technology have created many unforeseen byproducts. When comparing the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan with previous conflicts like Vietnam, the Second World War and Korea, the incidents of fatality per combatant have improved drastically. Body armor is a big reason, aided by improvements in battlefield medicine and evacuation capabilities. The result is less death with more surviving casualties – amputations, brain trauma victims, PTSD, paralysis, etc.
Increased global conflict compounds this phenomenon and has resulted in a massive increase in the population of disabled veterans. Unfortunately, in many instances the appropriate level of benefits and resources have not kept pace with the demand for such services. It is fair to say that we have not kept our promise to many veterans and their families when it comes to honoring their service and the physical and psychological sacrifices that they have made on our behalf.
Veterans and their loved ones who need immediate help can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Hotline. They can also chat online at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net, or send a text message to 838255 to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. Sometimes, just giving a veteran that number can make all of the difference.
My message this Veterans Day is again to remember not only those brave men and women in uniform and the healthy proud alumni of military service, but also the forgotten soldiers among us – the less fortunate who have returned from service with much less than they took along. A soldier's pride often makes it difficult to ask for help, but there are a host of organizations that you can contribute to in order to give a helping hand to someone who has already given to each of us.