Harriet Freiberger: ‘Thank you’ is not enough
Today, many of us will experience something good when we walk up to a veteran, offer a handshake, and say “thank you.” Maybe we shall see a little of ourselves, or rather, what could be at least a little part of ourselves.
We hope the veteran will see it that way.
In a diverse nation such as ours, everyone thinks differently, and, depending upon our ages, that handshake and those words touch a distinct chord. Most who have served in our country’s military forces will hear our “thank you” and respond with an appreciative nod. Some will smile, pleased at the recognition of their service.
Unspoken though will be words recalling a time when Americans spit on returning veterans, accusing them of everything that was wrong with the world.
We who lived during those not-so-long-ago decades remember “the good, the bad, and the ugly” — sparkling highlights of enlarging freedoms and exciting scientific discoveries; horrifying lowlights of hatred and violence.
Thank goodness, 2015’s youngsters see uniformed men and women without shadows of the past. Protesters against war line up to vilify Congress, not the men and women who are sent to serve.
Whether approving or disapproving of decisions made by our legislators, our judges or our president, we Americans can use this day to acknowledge our veterans. We can choose to say “thank you” — or not. We are learning to respect our differences, some 300 million of us who are enjoying freedom limited only by the restraints we place upon ourselves.
Our veterans represent a pride in that freedom, and there is much good in a long list of American accomplishments to make all of us feel proud.
When the first modern global conflict ended almost 100 years ago, Armistice Day began a tradition. The United States Congress, in a concurrent action of both houses, set aside Nov. 11 to honor the soldiers who returned from across the Atlantic.
“. . . the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”
Who among us finds fault with those words?
Hope for peace remained strong even after another war spread into 50 countries and mobilized over 60 million men and women. Some 400,000 Americans never returned from that conflict. Then, within only a few years of World War II’s end, Congress once more called on the military to lead a United Nations effort to defend South Korea against its invading neighbor.
Following that action, the 83rd U.S. Congress changed Armistice Day to an occasion honoring American veterans of all wars. The tradition continues.
In spite of all the negatives pulling us apart, our history reflects a unity of purpose in a forward-pointing momentum toward the promise of “liberty and justice for all.” Being an American entitles each of us to claim that history, but, claiming it, we are obligated to assume the accompanying responsibility.
The veteran represents something valuable, the honor that arises from being able to say, “I have done my duty.” How many of the rest of us can say that? What have we contributed to our communities, to our country?
Veterans have done their share. It is up to the rest of us to “… remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” (President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nov. 11, 1954 )
“Thank you” is not enough.
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River Valley since 1982.
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