Every year, it seems, Veterans Day takes on a different meaning. When I was young it was a day to give thanks to the many men and women who have stood to serve our country by protecting the American way of life. This would bring up images of assaults on machine gun swept beaches or long patrols in the jungles of Vietnam. During my time as an active duty Marine this became a day to reflect on our legacy. A legacy of faithfulness and selfless duty that would guide the thoughts and actions of those of us who were serving. We were standing on the shoulders of the veterans who had gone before us and would live to make them proud. The first several years after my active service this day would take on a whole different meaning. It became a day to reflect with pride on my own opportunity to serve and to connect with those with whom I shared my formative years. Over the last few years Veterans Day has taken on a more somber tone. As I watch what has happened in the places I served I ask myself whether or not the sacrifice of life was worth what appears to be very little gain.
This year though, Veterans Day means something different. Maybe it is because I am getting older or perhaps because I am working harder to draw meaning from the past. Whatever the case, this Veterans Day has caused me to stop and reflect on what we have become. Husbands and fathers, leaders of for profit and non-profit organizations and contributors to the society that for better or worse we once stood to protect. While the news is full of the stories of so many veterans that just never figured out how to live outside of the military, most take the lessons learned back to the life they left and are better because of it. They are more compassionate because they have seen the brokenness in the rest of the world. They are more helpful because they have learned that nothing of significance happens alone. They are more responsible because they know that sometimes you have to lead when no one else will. While there are many veterans who struggle to find the way forward, most live lives that continue to make the world a better place.
For me, this Veterans Day is an opportunity to look at those with whom I had the privilege of serving and say simply, “I am proud of who we’ve become!”
-Jeremy Stalnecker, Executive Director