Veteran’s Day has always meant something to me. But then, I was born in 1964. I’m the last of the ‘Baby Boomers.’ I grew up on stories of family members in time of war. I remember my father, Keith Leap (my name also) leaving for Vietnam when I was four years old, and remember (vaguely) his return. I recall my uncle’s stories of the Navy, and of a grandfather in the Army in Mississippi and a great-grandfather who served during the Spanish-American War. There were others, back to the Civil War, the War of 1812 and the Revolution.
I grew up looking for dates of service on tombstones, and for flags, ranks and units of the fallen. I grew up with toy guns, toy soldiers and war movies, in a time when we threw plastic grenades with caps in them, which sometimes actually went off and frankly surprised us.
A great-uncle I never met was a Col. in the US Army in France during WWI, and I always heard that he said he was determined to bring his men home safely. Another great uncle gave me a bayonet he took from an ammo-dump in Italy during WWII; there appears to be a ding in the side from a bullet. A neighbor survived the Bataan Death March; not surprisingly, he suffered as an alcoholic as long as we knew him. I once met a gracious gentleman who was a former Wehrmacht soldier, who (after a CT scan when his arms were held above his head) said ‘the last time I held my arms like that one of Patton’s soldiers had a rifle in my back!’
I was immersed in veterans and their stories. And the ones I knew were ever humble and kind.
Was I taught to idolize war? Was I taught that bloodshed was the answer? Was I taught that violence was some sort of higher good, as if we were Lacedaemonian children of Sparta?
I don’t think so. I think I was taught to idolize sacrifice, courage, and simply fortitude. I grew up in Appalachia; fortitude was necessary, if only for my ancestors to survive against nature.
I suspect that much that these men did had less to do with bravery than determination; in practical application they can look the same, I suppose.
Many brave men and women follow that tradition of service. They fight, are wounded and die on many fields. They live or die by their conviction, by their camaraderie, by their patriotism and belief in something higher.
This is hardly limited to the armed forces. Many live their convictions, in all sorts of fields of endeavor. But what I wonder now is this: who will die for their convictions?
We live in a time when many people, especially those in universities, are emotionally wrecked by the slightest challenge to their beliefs, the faintest intrusion into the coddled safety of their own fragile minds. College administrators give them coloring books, Play-dough, therapy dogs. Safe rooms are established where they can cry when things don’t go the way they perceive that they should, when there is no trophy or certificate for all. I suppose this is included in the price of tuition?
But on Veteran’s Day, I must ask of all Americans, what beliefs will they, will we, go through life willing to die to defend? We should all ask this. What matters most? Faith, country, family, these are things men and women historically died for. Ideology? To some extent, but I wonder.
Will generations of young people learn the lesson of Veteran’s Day? Not that they need to serve in the military to be real Americans; not that the only heroes are those in uniform, those in battle. That is a heresy that would produce a warrior class, and we don’t need that.
The lesson, as I see it, is different. What will you have the courage to stand up and live for, instead of lying down and weeping? And what will you have the fortitude to die for, if it comes to that?
On this beautiful Veteran’s Day, contemplate that, whether you are or were or never were in the armed forces. And find an answer.
The future may call on you to decide.