OpEd: What is a Veteran ?

November 9, 2019

Submitted by John OC O’Connor

Would it be a person who stood up to serve when they heard their country’s call? Is it the person who signed a blank check for up to and including the cost of his or her life? Maybe the person who left their family for deployment to a foreign country they never even heard of? Or, is it the person who took an oath to defend and uphold the US Constitution to protect the freedoms of ALL people in our country – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation?

Many would correctly answer YES to all those questions. Yet, a Veteran is much more than that. Because a Veteran could also be a Mother, a Father, Sister or Brother, an Aunt or Uncle, Grandfather or Grandmother – but above all they must be a Son or Daughter.

There was a time when 16-year-olds joined the service. There was a time when men were mandated to serve; it was called the draft. There were times when Veterans were triumphantly welcomed home after their sacrifices and hardships. There have been times when the words “welcome home” weren’t used at all.

You see, there have always been brave individuals willing to take their turn on heaving carrier decks; defend dense jungle outposts; sweat miserably in barren desert bunkers; or guard perimeters of endless frozen fence to protect our liberties.

Enemies have waged war against our service men & women. Yet other factors also impact our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard. Historically, some of those factors have been influenced by generational perspectives and public sentiment. Do we influence that perspective?

In May 1940, 93% of the US population felt we had no business being at war; in July 1940, 61% still believed we should stay out; by March 1941 though, 67% shifted in favor of at least “helping” Europe. Then the most unifying event in the history of the USA took place on December 7, 1941, and 91% of the population agreed with FDR declaring war on Japan. That was seventy-eight years ago [when the US entered World War II].

One month ago, a group of individuals was afforded an opportunity of a lifetime. They essentially took part in what some might consider a fantastic journey into a time machine perfectly suited for Veterans Day. As if trapped in a time continuum, able to instantly span generations with a front-row seat in the battlefields of history.

Remember the 91% of the population who agreed to wage war for our freedoms? The ones who answered that call or sentiment were soon to become Veterans. They were men and women who personally understood, personally responded, and paid a personal price. And yes, back then and today, their families also pay a price.

Have you ever heard of those fabulously awesome reunions of sorts called “Honor Flights”?  World War II Veterans board planes to Washington DC, to be thanked for their service in deeds, not just words, and given the attention that National Treasures deserve.

Well, the caring, passionate, enthusiastic employees at the Bedford VA Volunteer Services put their thinking caps on. How could they emulate that “Honor Flight” experience with WWII Veterans here in Bedford?  They succeeded alright – “above and beyond”. (yes, we have some of those amazing members of the Greatest Generation, National Treasures, still in our midst)

From the moment the live band saluted our Veterans with a military medley, it was clear as the smiles on their faces that it would be a very special day.  Our WWII Veterans eagerly boarded the beautifully decorated VAMC bus driven by Veteran Kevin Dougherty and drove along Springs Road, under the fully-furled giant US Flag hoisted by Bedford’s Fire Department as they departed Bedford’s VA campus.

A police escort led the bus to the American Heritage Museum in Hudson, MA where it was greeted by rows upon rows of US Flags lining the driveway to welcome our Vets to the museum. Our men and women were enthusiastically greeted by members of the United States Air Force, dignitaries, and well-wishers from the VA including Director Dr. Joan Clifford, doctors and nurses, with Laurel Holland and her brilliant Volunteer Services Team.

It was a well-orchestrated day of recognition, appreciation, songs, a delicious catered meal and the military museum whose authenticity is beyond reproach. Our Vets’ appreciative faces spoke more loudly in their reflective silence than the chaotic thunder of exploding artillery shells they probably experienced in France, Germany or the South Pacific so many years ago.

Thank you to the Edith Norse Rogers Bedford VA for all you do to treat our Vets with dignity, honor, and respect.

While the number of WWII Vets diminishes, they have passed their torch down to other generations to carry forward. Each generation, fortunately, has individuals willing to pick up that torch, to pick up the flag, to take the place of those who fought so gallantly for our freedoms. Those individuals are what, or who, we ultimately call a Veteran.

Those are the ones we owe a debt of gratitude for their existence, professionalism, and patriotism.

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