Happy Veterans Day to All My Fellow Vets

Today is Veterans Day. Given that only 7 percent of the people of this nation has ever put on a uniform, I am not sure Americans have any idea just why Veterans Day is a holiday.

Yes, it means schools and most government offices are closed. But it means a lot more to the men and women who served this country.

Veterans Day gives Americans the opportunity to celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of all U.S. veterans. However, most Americans confuse this holiday with Memorial Day, reports the Department of Veterans Affairs.

      Pvt. Ron Yates in Uniform

Memorial Day honors service members who died in service to their country or as a result of injuries incurred during battle. Deceased veterans are also remembered on Veterans Day but the day is really set aside to thank and honor living veterans who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime.

Someone, I don’t know who, once defined a veteran this way: “A Veteran is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America,” for an amount of “up to, and including his or her life.”

That is Honor. It’s a concept that those who have never worn the uniform will ever fully comprehend or appreciate.

There are too many people in this country today who no longer understand what honor and sacrifice are.

Today, when athletes feel entitled to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem, or when our nation’s flag is burned or disrespected, it’s a slap in the face to veterans–at least to most of us.

Yes, it is a First Amendment right to display that contempt and to disparage those who served. The great irony is that those who do are permitted to enjoy the advantages and freedom veterans have won for them just the same.

I joined the U.S. Army in the 1960s and spent almost four years on active duty with the Army Security Agency (ASA). It was probably the best thing I ever did. It taught me about leadership, self-discipline, and working as part of a team. It taught me to be dependable and trustworthy. And it showed me the importance of serving something more important than yourself—the country that you were fortunate enough to be a citizen of.

I achieved the rank of Sergeant (E-5) and had I re-upped I was promised an immediate promotion to Staff Sergeant (E-6) along with a hefty re-enlistment bonus because I had what the Army considered a “critical MOS” (Military Occupation Specialty). I declined because I wanted to finish my college education and become a foreign correspondent. I achieved both and I credit my time in the U.S. Army with teaching me about setting goals and doing what is necessary to achieve them.

U.S. Army Security Agency Shoulder Patch

Let me end with a few facts about the nation’s veterans.

  • There are 18.5 million veterans living in the United States as of 2016, according to the Census Bureau. Of these, 1.6 million veterans are women.
  • As of last year, there were 6.8 million American veterans who served during the Vietnam era and 7.1 million who served in the Gulf War era, which spans from August 1990 through the present. (Some veterans served through both eras.) There were also about 771,000 World War II veterans and 1.6 million who served during the Korean conflict, the VA estimates.
  • About three-quarters (77%) of veterans in 2016 served during wartime and 23% served during peacetime.
  • A large proportion of the veteran population, 9.2 million, are aged 65 and older, while 1.6 million are younger than 35.
  • Currently, nine-in-ten veterans (91%) are men while 9% are women, according to the VA’s 2016 population model estimates. By 2045, the share of female veterans is expected to double to 18%.
  • Fewer members of Congress have prior military experience than in the past. As the share of Americans who are veterans has declined, so has the share of Congress members who have previously served in the military. In the current Congress, 20% of senators and 19% of representatives had prior military service, down drastically from just a few decades ago.
  • The American labor force has 7.2 million veterans ages 18 to 65. Of these, 6.8 million are employed. Male and female veterans’ annual median incomes are both higher than their nonveteran counterparts.

So, this is just a quick shout out to all of my fellow veterans who put on the uniform of this country and served:

HOO-RAH! HOOYAH! OOH-RAH! (Take your pick)