Reflection: Veterans Day 2017
Each year on or around Veterans Day (and many other holidays) I like to pause to reflect on the day–its meaning and how and why the day is observed in our culture. Since the advent of social media, Veterans Day in particular becomes a day for a collective pause. I see updated profile photos of many of my friends as they take time to remember with pride their own time of service and the people they had the opportunity to serve with. Families take time to remember and honor their relatives who made commitments of service to this country. For those who have retired, who are no longer alive, and for those who are still serving, the rest of the nation turns its eyes, thoughts, and attention to the incredible acts of service of these men and women.
Over the course of my adult life, I have had the privilege of serving in various roles with and learning from many veterans. First and foremost would likely be my Uncle Bill. who served in the Army long before I was ever born. My Uncle Bill has always demonstrated the value of serving others first. He and his late wife always practiced hospitality and generosity when we would visit his house, and even today, I know that none of his family or friends ever lack when their is a need. When I go back home, I always strive to make time to visit him and listen to the amazing stories of service and witness the example of this 82 year old relative.
In addition to Uncle Bill, another veteran I had the privilege of learning from and being mentored by was the late Chief of my tribe, Joseph Raincrow Neale. Okima (which I always called him out of respect). He served in the US Navy during WWII, and was not only an incredible spiritual leader and mentor, but was a wonderful role model with regard to service, discipline, respect, and honor. He was hard but fair, stern but compassionate, and resolute but gracious. He taught me much about what it means to give of one’s self and to never relent when it comes to hard work. He also demonstrated one of the most wonderful relationships with Jesus that I had ever seen. He set the standard for what it means to be a human being. He was a real human being.
And over the last ten years or so I’ve had the privilege of working directly with a friend of mine from my freshman year of college, a fellow West Virginian, who felt a strong call to serve, transferred from WVU to the United States Naval Academy, and served as a Force Reconnaissance Marine before launching an organization dedicated to eradicating extreme poverty and making this world more stable and safe for everyone, Nuru International. Jake has done an incredible job of bringing together a team from both the civilian and veteran community who are fiercely committed to servant leadership and bringing meaningful choices to our global neighbors.
Across every area of my life, I have had the privilege of rubbing shoulders with a number of veteran men and women, and I am constantly impressed with the discipline, courage, commitment, and tenacity that each one of them continues to bring into their daily lives. Whether it is my friend Marta who recently transitioned out and is looking for new opportunities to serve, my friend Raphael who is steadily reminding fellow Americans that their citizenship demands service, or my friend Matt who works two jobs to support his family and provide a future of hard fought freedom for his children, they each continue to bring a steadfast and resilient commitment to service and overcoming challenges into every area of their life–and exhorting others to do the same.
On Veterans Day, we remember the fallen, those who are still down range, and those who have transitioned into so-called ‘normal’ life. Businesses and individuals offer their thanks for service and applause for sacrifices that only a small percentage are willing and able to make, but I wonder if there is a stronger and more meaningful gesture. What if more of this world operated by a code of honor? What if more men and women chose to live their lives with an others first mentality? What if we chose sacrifice-over self indulgence? What if we chose to emulate the example of those few who have set aside their own comfort for the sake of their fellow humans? To me, I feel like that would be the best gesture of gratitude that could be bestowed upon those who have served, those who have fallen, and those who are still down range. In fact, earlier today, my friend Jake actually mentioned a similar idea via social media, “Look the veteran you care for the most in the eye and tell him or her that you won’t let his or her sacrifice be for nothing.”
May we each aspire to live courageous lives of sacrifice, service, courage, and commitment, and may we demonstrate honor and respect as we seek to build a better world, together.