The other 364 days

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Sunday much of the news centered around Veterans Day as we remembered and celebrated those men and women who serve us. It is their day to stand and be recognized, and our day to acknowledge their many sacrifices.

I think it’s a bit of a shame — not that we have a Veterans’ Day — not at all. It is a shame that we don’t honor them every day, because we enjoy the benefits of their service every day. After all, they remember us every day as they grapple with the repercussions of their experiences on our behalf. The truth is: No American Veteran who serves our nation returns home to a life unchanged.

Veterans who sustain physical injuries must confront new challenges. For those who lost arms or legs or sight, we have a visible reminder of their sacrifice. Others, however, struggle with the fallout from their service privately and often silently — battling post traumatic stress disorder or depression. All returning Veterans must rebuild their lives, reinvigorate their livelihoods and re-establish their family units after an absence of months or years.

According to a report by the Associated Press published by CBS news* in August, suicides among returning Veterans have increased sharply. It is a worrisome trend.

While we go merrily on our way for 364 days enjoying the fruits of their labors, we devote one day to honor them. I’m not proposing extra or extended Veterans Day celebrations, but I am suggesting that we be more attentive during the rest of the year.

It is easy to assume that Veterans organizations are there for them, but what about us — their friends and acquaintances? What is our duty to them? To wave flags? To hold parades? To reach out in friendship and support?

All of the above, I think — especially reaching out in friendship. Perhaps it is our duty to them.

Every morning in the obituaries of Harrisonburg’s Daily News-Record, we read that another Veteran has left us, especially Veterans of earlier wars. On Friday, it was one of our own; Dr. Crystal Theodore, longtime professor of art, had served her country as vigorously as she served her students.

I’m always struck by those little American flags the DN-R wraps with the words of an Veteran’s obituary. I often wonder how their bearers fared returning to civilian life or what challenges they had to overcome. And I wonder if they knew how thankful we all are. Institutional thanks, a day in their honor, is nice, but I always hope someone thanked them face to face.

There are many Veterans among us in the Madison community, like Justin Constantine, alumnus and Iraq war veteran; David Parker, professor of law in the College of Business and Irag War veteran; Dr. Z. S. “Dick” Dickerson, faculty emeritus and World War II veteran; David Chase, staff member in the Office of Institutional Research and career marine; and student Rick Brightwell (’13). Rick deployed with the Marine Corps to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in Nov. 2010 and served there until July 2011. He returned to JMU in August 2011 and will graduate in May from the College of Business.

Dr. Theodore, Justin, David, Dr. “D”, David and Rick are some of many — Reservists, National Guard members, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines. Men and women who have served in our stead.

All of us relish changing lives in big and exciting ways — helping orphans, assisting storm victims, rescuing those caught in war or perpetual homelessness. We are inspired by people, like many of our Be the Changers, who help change their lives, but what about us?

Sometimes the greatest change can be wrought by the simplest kindness. Once a Veteran has served us, it becomes our duty to serve him or her. Danny Mallory (’08) and the Richmond Alumni Chapter practice that during regular visits to their local Veterans hospital, which treats those recovering from traumatic brain injuries.

If nothing more, it is our duty to honor them with kindness for 365 days of the year — to thank them, support them, befriend them.

As of today, there are 364 days until Veterans Day 2013 — 364 days to make a difference in an American Veteran’s life.

JMU’s counseling center offers returning Veterans a host of services:

About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

3 Responses to The other 364 days

  1. Mark Thomas says:

    Thank you for the invitation. I would love to visit you and will certainly get in touch next time I am in the area.


  2. Mark Thomas says:

    I agree with you about this; being prepared to give up your own life to protect and serve others is the ultimate sacrifice. I actually think the USA does a better job of this than most countries. I was pleasantly surprised last week at Ronald Reagan Airport to see a special ‘fast track’ line for those people in the services. I haven’t since this anywhere els in the world and thought that it was a nice gesture and at least gave the rest of us time to think about their contribution.


    • grahammb says:

      During the Viet Nam era, many returning U.S. Veterans were treated poorly. We learned our lesson and work hard to value them today. By the way, when you were at Reagan Airport, you were only two hours from our campus. Next time, we’d love to have you visit! ________________________________________


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