The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month marked the end of the Great War, a day that came to be known as Armistice Day. As the Great War was later renamed World War I, so Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day – a day set aside every year to remember those who served in times of peace or war.
A day reserved for parades, colors, salutes and dedications.
But that day has even more meanings as it has names.
For those who have never served or for those who have friends or relatives who have, it is a day to say, “Thank you for your service.” A solemn reminder to acknowledge the selfless sacrifices that accompany the noble deed of serving a greater purpose.
I am still not sure how to respond to that reverence. Is it pretentious to respond with “you’re welcome,” or is it acceptable to reply back with a “thank you?”
For the veterans who have a closet full of old uniforms, a shoebox filled with mementos from what seems like a lifetime ago or a shadowbox meticulously adorned with ribbons, medals and insignias, it is a day to remember those who are still with us and those who are not.
It is a day to look back at the endured hardships with a teary-eyed smile while sharing a cold brew with others who have also walked the line.
This year, I found myself in a classroom at Hayes Intermediate School in Grove City, Ohio, on Veterans Day. I was seated next to my 10-year-old nephew, surrounded by his classmates and joined by 10 other veterans from every generation – World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf and the war on terror.
From Pearl Harbor to 9/11.
One was wearing his old dress uniform. Another was wearing a crisp blue suit and an American flag necktie. Eight of us, including myself, were wearing everyday clothes, and the final man was wearing his current working uniform.
It was in that room that I realized what I had really already known when a student’s grandfather slowly stood up with misty eyes and spoke in a hushed voice – it’s not about the parades or the pomp and circumstance. It’s not about the sibling rivalries of who had it rougher or the nobility of answering the call.
It’s about the people.
The hallmark of great leadership is a notion that was immortalized in the 2001 HBO special Band of Brothers when the German general addressed his men one final time before surrendering to Allied forces. The general said, “You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond, that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You deserve long and happy lives in peace.”
Aaron Yerian served as a petty officer first class in the U.S. Navy from June 1999 to Feb. 2012.