It’s Veteran’s Day, 2020

It’s Veteran’s Day in the United States. Armistice Day in other countries.

I wanted to this post to land at the 11th hour and the 11th minute, on November 11. In years past, that was when we would toast the veterans in the dining room. That was usually after the parade, the marching band, and the speeches, the endless speeches.

This year, I’m not sure there will be a parade, and I know that many of the celebrations of America’s veterans will be reduced and curtailed by the restrictions of the day.

A USA face mask.

As a woman who is a veteran, this saddens me.

I have a family that has long served this country in uniform. In fact, some go back to the men in blue during our Civil War. Union soldiers out of Pennsylvania. And there are family members who registered for WWI – and three out of four of my grandparents served in WWII. Paratrooper, Navigator, Women’s Army Corps.

The author’s grandparents on their wedding day.

Later, uncles served in Vietnam, peacetime, and then me, during Desert Storm so very long ago.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet people who served in all wars in the 20th century, and to meet those who have come back from recent stints. I’ve met people with missing limbs, bad backs, tinnitus, aphasia, all kinds of scars, physical and emotional.

Once upon a time not too long ago, I knew and loved a Pearl Harbor survivor. I knew a woman who survived the Holocaust and served the U.S. out of gratitude because we saved her and her sister. I still know many veterans, and I meet them with respect first, camaraderie second.

That’s not to say all veterans are good. After all, not all the apples on a tree will be ripe and pure. Some will be sour, some bitter, some ruined by worms. But you don’t condemn the tree for a few bad apples.

What I really want to say here is that if you know a veteran or are one yourself, it’s not just a day.

It’s an entire life.

You gave, and we all changed because of it. Saying “Thank you for your service” may not be big, broad, and bold enough to acknowledge the sacrifice you made in taking the oath to serve. It’s pretty scary when Uncle Sam suddenly has direction and control over your life. We can only hope that those in command lead honorably, with intelligence and compassion.

If you know a veteran, remember that what they did by serving was something most people are too frightened to do. Some are too selfish to put their lives on the line. Some are dismissive of those who do put the uniform on. Some still harbor anger over 50 years later for wars they didn’t agree with and administrations they didn’t respect. Some spat on those who served.

Don’t be a spitter. It doesn’t become you.

If you have the time, especially for our elder vets, ask them where they served, what they did. Many will tell you their tales. Of homesickness, lost loves, draft cards, letters from home. Some will speak of terror, HumVees, desert sands, berserkers, and nightmares. Some will still scan the horizon for snipers when they walk through their hometowns.

These are the people among us this day is for. Remember them. Pay your respects if you can. At the very least, thank them for their service.

No One Serves Alone

This is a speech I gave at the Yountville Veterans Home on November 10, 2017, in observation of Veterans Day.

Veterans Day Speech 2017

For 98 years, Americans have remembered those who served our country in uniform on the 11th of November – first as Armistice Day, and then, since 1954 as Veterans Day. In this 99th year of commemoration, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs is broadening that tradition of observance and appreciation to include both veterans and military families for the entire month of November.

I respect this acknowledgment and inclusion of military families because, for my own experience and observation, it has become increasingly clear:

No one serves alone.

I am a veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force during operation Desert Storm. I am the granddaughter of three World War II veterans and one non-veteran spouse. I am the niece of many a veteran, and the friend of scores more.

As a young woman I voluntarily took the oath to serve my country in a November long ago. I immediately became part of a community that stretched far and wide and forward and backward in the history of this country. The military became my family and we share a common bond with those who have served. One of those bonds is the willingness to respond to the call of duty. Whether it be a draft notice from the US government or an internal need to serve something greater than yourself, all who have worn the uniform have answered that call.

It is my honor and privilege to continue to serve by leading this veterans home in the capacity of acting administrator.

There is a meme going around on the Internet these days, no one knows who first said it, but it has been widely quoted and affirmed and I quoted here:

A veteran is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount of  ‘up to and including my life.’

That “check” they’re referring to is the oath. Many veterans proudly state there is no expiration date on the oath they took, there’s no expiration on that blank check.

This is the kind of fighting spirit and commitment that has served this country well.

Training together and serving in some difficult and even horrific situations – these times bind us. This veterans home recently experienced an the event which I can only compare to being under siege. We were in the middle of what on the map looks like a huge fire sandwich. Many of us were here on campus throughout the Norcal fires, through the smoke, watching Blackhawks dip into the Hinman dam on our property, lift up and carry the water to douse flames nearby. We experienced a partial evacuation and the majority of our home members sheltered in place, for days. It was not an easy time for any of us. It was a reminder of the fragility of everything we hold dear – clean air, a safe shelter, the well-being of our loved ones, the continuation of our livelihoods.

I can tell you that this community weathered those challenges with an incredible spirit and grace. Many of us were immediately ready to respond to the best of our ability to the emergency. As I said, no one serves alone, and we were ready to help each other out, and many jumped in without being asked, without question.

What an incredible, fighting spirit we have here.

What an incredible community of veterans and military families we have here.

Recently I spoke with a lovely young woman who was holding a microphone and a camera was running. When she heard how we came through the last few weeks, she remarked “this is a community of survivors!” I have to agree. A veteran is someone who survived many things, some as simple as running in combat boots and heaving a 200 pound rucksack through hot weather, others as complex as dropping bombs on unseen villages or hunkering down behind the line. Some have survived worse, and I won’t focus on these things, only to say that military service is something unforgettable and that it changes a person. It is the reason the word veteran is poignant and meaningful. The person who “survives” is not the same person who went in to take the oath.

There is a veteran I know who, while in uniform, in heat of over 100 degrees with unbelievable humidity, dropped out of formation to check on another soldier who was in serious distress. This soldier, I should specify airman, this airman, helped the other airmen out of the ditch she was in and got her some medical aid. The airman who was assisted out of the ditch, who was in distress, was me. And I have been thankful ever since. These are the things we cannot forget.

Yountville Veterans Home
Flags at the Veterans Home, Summer 2017

Finally, I remind you that it is the national month for veterans and military families. I can think of no better month to have this commemoration, and is as it is the month Americans give thanks for the blessings they have received. I give thanks to all veterans and their families for this blessing, for the blessing of being here with you today.

I would like to close with some words shared on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, by Pres. Ronald Reagan:

We in America have learned bitter lessons from two world wars: it is better to be here ready to protect the peace, then to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments was an expansionist intent.

But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation.

–President Ronald Reagan

May we continue to be prepared for peace and for reconciliation. May that spirit continue to be part of the fighting, survivor spirit we have here.

Thank you for the honor of speaking to you here today.

Ursula Stuter, November 2017

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