I don’t know about you, but I find that Veteran’s Day can creep up and catch me unaware. It’s not like Halloween, where the candy sales in the supermarket let you know it’s on its way. Or Thanksgiving, with pumpkin patch pictures all over Facebook and all those reds and oranges and golden browns. You know, harvest colors – at least, in the northeast, where I’m from – and Indian corn, and cranberries, and turkey for 87 cents a pound. Veteran’s Day doesn’t have any special food or tradition that I know of. It’s not even the day we mourn all the American boys and girls (because think of how young they are, really) who we’ve lost to war – that’s Memorial Day, and it doesn’t roll around until the end of spring.
Veteran’s Day just kind of appears, often without fanfare, in the middle of November – November 11 to be exact – and we’re all supposed to stop and give due respect to all the Americans either currently or previously in uniform.
I have tremendous respect for veterans – not because I come from an army family, but because I’ve spent an incredible amount of time with veterans. And they’ve earned my respect. I’ve had the privilege of caring for several vets, a few from that Greatest Generation, and a young gentleman who lost a leg in Afghanistan.
You know, we think about the awful things that happen in a war, but the vets I know mostly regale me with pranks they and their friends pulled on each other. Ooh, the stories these gentleman can tell! I’ll just be doing my usual – helping them get up in the morning, shifting them out of bed, guiding their way to the bathroom and supporting them in whatever they need. But I reap the benefits of all the tales.
One WWII vet was a big schmoozer. He’d sit there in his kitchen, while I set him up with some breakfast. Coffee, oatmeal, now and then an egg. And he’d tell me stories of the men he’d met, those he’d grown close to, their nicknames, the letters from home they received.
The other World War II vet needed less help physically, but he was considerably more reserved – I think he appreciated that I drew him out. He didn’t have a lot of family nearby like the first gentleman did – his daughter lived out west somewhere – so I got him to tell me his stories. He was a paratrooper, and he did all kinds of dangerous things in the war, jumping down behind enemy lines, that kind of thing. But he was very dignified, always. You know, button down shirts, sports jackets, stiff upper lip.
I’m proud that I was able to be a good help to him. He always had a lot of appointments. Doctors here and there, but also, he was winding down a business, and he couldn’t drive himself to get to the lawyers’ appointments. It was fun to be able to use my license as an aid – not everything is bedpans, you know. Anyway, I made sure my second vet got to all those appointments on time, just the same way I made sure he took his meds every day.
My amputee vet was a different kind of story. He was newly home, and not at all well. Caring for him was my privilege in a different way. To know he’d been hurt over there, and that I was able to help make him a little more comfortable while he healed, and then when he was trying to figure out what it would mean to be a civilian. I felt so patriotic! It was the least – and the best I could do for him – he’d given so much to our country.
So – yes, I love Veteran’s Day. I like reminiscing about my patients who are vets, but I’m also glad to take these few moments to stop and pay attention to what they were all fighting for. We can’t all jump out of planes, of course, but we still join together in caring for one another and this great country, where we are able to give, as they did, and do our part back home too.