It was a simple question my colleague asked me a few years ago. I was startled, then a little horrified. I wondered how anyone could not know when America officially honors military Veterans. When I was growing up, and even now, every day is Veterans Day.
My dad was a veteran of Korea and three combat tours in Vietnam. He never talked about his military service but it was the phantom of my childhood. He had an explosive temper and terrible nightmares. He drank too much and yelled even more. He never held a job for more than a year or two, if at all, and looking back now, I realize he must have suffered terribly.
But he loved America, his kids and happy hours at the VFW. He hated hippies, foreign cars and people who belittled the armed forces. Red, white and blue were his favorite colors. He carried his service around in his heart, his mind and in the metal shrapnel scattered in his body until the day he died. For him, every day was Veterans Day, because he lived his time at war in some way, every day.
It's a family tradition. My Grandfather fought in the trenches of Europe in World War I, my uncles served in World War II. My brother Ole joined the Marines when he was 17 and retired more than 35 years later. Although he doesn't talk about his time in Iraq and Afghanistan, he, like my dad, carries his service in his heart and his mind. My brother always says his heroes are the Marines he lost in Iraq. To this day, he honors those men by staying in touch with their families and keeping their memories alive. Every day will always be Veterans Day for him.
My niece Susie is in the Army and her sister Jane is in the Marines. They both joined straight out of high school. I dread the day when they, too, will come home from a far off land wounded on the inside or out, when Veterans Day is every day for them.
I am like most Americans. I have never fought in a war, never smelled fear and ammunition in combat, never worried about being blown up by a roadside bomb. We need to remember those who fought for our country while we stayed safe, out of the crossfire.
The Veterans Administration says there are more than 20 million living U.S. Veterans. They could be your co-workers, neighbors and friends. Even if you don't know anyone who has served in the armed forces, there are some small things you can do to let them know you appreciate their service.
How you can help a Veteran any day
California-based Operation Gratitude
sponsors programs honoring veterans year-round with care packages that include handwritten letters. There are directions on their website. The group sends care packages to VA hospitals, veterans nursing homes, veterans groups and other support organizations.
You can also create your own care package for a VA Hospital. Donations of magazines, coffee or cookies, new or gently used clothing and telephone cards are always welcome. Contact your local VA Hospital
for more information on what's needed in your community.
According to the VA, a little more than a fifth of the adult homeless population has served in the military. The VA has a National Call Center for Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The center provides free 24/7 access to trained counselors. Call 1-877-4AID VET (1-877-424-3838.)
In Washington and other cities, some organizations are working to help Homeless Veterans.
"Veterans don't always ask for help. There's a lot of pride," says Christy Respress, executive director of Pathways to Housing DC.
Pathways works with Miriam's Kitchen
to identify veterans who need help and get them off the street. They do this by getting them into permanent housing and providing them with psychological help and other services.
These are just a few ways to help make every day Veterans Day. There are so many more things you can do in your own community. Not just on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, but a daily Armistice in our hearts.