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Commentary: Go beyond thanking veterans for their service; show them too

“I challenge each of us this Veterans Day to ask your neighbors, your colleagues and your friends, ‘Did you serve?,’” says commentary writer Denton Knapp.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The United States celebrates Veterans Day every Nov. 11, to honor those who have served in our Armed Forces, whether in peace or in war.

We honor our combat veterans still living from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Inherent Resolve.

Today, more than 20 million US military veterans live in the US. Only a fraction of 1% of the country’s population is serving in our Armed Forces, while about 7% of the population are veterans.

So who are these veterans and where can we find them?

Some may be readily visible by their American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars service caps. Others may have a USS Enterprise hat, a T-shirt with a 3rd Infantry Division logo, or like many you’ll see on Veterans Day, are still able to fit into their service uniforms from days gone by.

Sometimes you’ll notice their hair, the way they talk or demeanor.

However, most of the veterans out there today are invisible.

Invisible because they have been there, living and working next to you for the past 10 years, sitting next to you in college, teaching your children at high school, and we never even knew they were veterans.

Why? Because we didn’t ask.

Most veterans will not self-identify. Military service is a humble profession. This profession of arms does not boast.

Most veterans leave the service and blend into society as much as possible. We change clothes, grow our hair, lose the jargon, find a house, a job and join the other 93% of Americans.

I challenge each of us this Veterans Day to ask your neighbors, your colleagues and your friends, “Did you serve?”

If yes, “In what service? What years did you serve, and what did you do?” You’ll be surprised who you discover is a veteran. Some may have been right next to you for years.

When you identify a veteran, most people find it customary to say, “Thank you for your service”. Rather than just saying thank you, I further challenge each of us to demonstrate our thankfulness.

Ask what they need. Most veterans will tell you they need nothing. So ask again. In many cases, their needs will be obvious.

Ask them to share more about their time in the service. I’d give anything to have my grandfather back on this earth to ask about his World War II service. I never did.

Those memories departed this world with him as he passed.

We are their legacy. We, sons and daughters of our veterans, and they expect us to pick up the torch and carry on — carry on with service to our nation, service to each other, and service as stewards of our profession of arms, ensuring that our history, culture, values, customs and traditions continue to exist, generation to generation, so as not to fade away as we pass on.

In this modern day, it is surprising that we still have veterans without homes, without employment or underemployed, and unable to receive timely and adequate healthcare and other benefits.

If we really want to honor our veterans, then volunteer to serve them. Join the organizations that provide services to those who served all of us so honorably.

Celebrate the few who have sacrificed so much to defend our Republic and guarantee our freedoms.

Honor their selfless commitment to our nation, where they faced death on the battlefield and struggles adjusting to society back home. Their efforts continue to allow us to live our lives with the freedoms we all enjoy.

For our veterans: know you are appreciated and that you may throw the torch, because the next generation of Americans is ready to catch it and hold it high.

We will keep the faith, we will honor your service as your legacy and our duty, and we will not break the faith that you so gallantly held sacred as you served our nation.

Denton Knapp is a retired Army colonel and combat veteran. He currently serves as the director of Goodwill of Orange County’s Tierney Center for Veteran Services.