Veterans faces in the flags we fly

Today, I was doing an errand  and there was a man standing on the side of a busy highway. He was young; I would say in his early 40’s. He was clean and muscular. It was cold and he was bundled up.  He held a sign that said “Homeless Veteran.”

My heart dipped. There are so many  incidents of veterans coming home with psychological and physical wounds; from PTSD to lost limbs. These are young veterans, coming from the sand and dust of Afghanistan and Iraq. There are veterans who can no longer make a living because of their war injuries, but find they do not have enough money to live on. Benefits for veterans have taken a hit, along with other social justice programs.

So, how do we honor them and help them? There are Veteran’s Day ceremonies around the state on Monday to honor veterans. Showing up is a nice way to say, “Thank you.”

For teachers, the answer is also to educate the next generation about what people in military service do for us, 365 days a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. At Share My Lesson, a resource site by and for teachers, there is currently a feature on the “Meaning of Veteran’s Day” that meets learning requirements for social studies, ELA, literature, U.S. government and citizenship. The site contains selected resources from an educational e-book, which is part of the What So Proudly We Hail series. It enlightens students about the importance of our country’s civic holidays through stories, speeches and songs.

Many teachers, like this one in Washington County, invite veterans into their classrooms to speak with their students, or have students read books written by veterans about  their experiences with war.

And, for all of us, there is perhaps a chance to pull over and hand a veteran some cash, or to donate to a designated charity that helps veterans. There is an organization where the military will assist veterans in applying for specific assistance and grants, and there are many charities such as Wounded Warrior Project or the Homeword Bound telethon this Sunday night to raise money for various charities serving veterans. You can read more here in the Washington Post.

For the older veterans, let’s not forget Honor Flight. World War II veterans have already raised their families and had careers; most are retired and many have already died. Honor Flight is an amazing organization that raises money to bring veterans — from World War II, the Korean War and Viet Nam — to Washington, D.C. for a day or an overnight so that they may see the national monuments in their honor. In New York, flights leave from Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and other points. Veterans are escorted to the airport flanked by a motorcade of motorcycles and, in the airport, bands play in their honor with on-lookers almost always lining up to applaud and thank them. Teachers often bring students to meet the veterans, and many students write them letters for “mail call” on the airplane. Some schools actually partner with Honor Flight to raise money and volunteer.

I had the privilege several years ago of interviewing several groups of veterans, including some retired teachers, who were visiting the WWII monument in Washington,D.C. on Honor Flights from Buffalo and Albany. There were a lot of tears and singing and joy. The veterans faces were etched with time and memories, like the inscriptions on the handsome, granite  monument they came to see.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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