Wednesday, November 11

Making Promises: Veterans Day


I met a boy on the ship coming over to Vietnam. He was a good guy from the state of Missouri. He was my friend. We lived in the same tent together, went into the An-Khe together, and spent most of our free time together. I got to know this boy well and he was my best friend. His name was Dan Davis.

On Monday morning, the 15th of November, he died in my arms of two bullet wounds in the chest. He said, "Ken, I can't breathe." There was nothing I could do." — excerpt from a letter from Kenneth Bagby, 1st Battalion, 7th Calvary, 1965


Forty-seven years prior, on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" in 1918, armistice was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Rethondes, France. The promise of armistice was peace, after a different generation of veterans prayed that their sons and daughters would never have to see the horrors of war.

In Belgium it is known as a Day of Peace. In France, Jour de l'Armistice. In the United Kingdom, it remains a day of remembrance. In Australia and Canada, people still wear red poppies and pause for a moment of silence at the eleventh hour. In Germany, Volkstrauertag remains a national day of mourning. And in the United States it was renamed Veterans Day to recognize and honor all veterans who served.

And yet, despite such promises made every year on this day, armistice continues to be a promise the world cannot keep. And children become solders. And soldiers are sent away. And when they return, sometimes only their mothers, families, filmakers, and bloggers remember them.


This Veterans Day is different for me. It is different because I recently had the opportunity to meet Phil Valentine, director/producer, and Michael Bedik, director of photography, who created Who Will Stand, a documentary that examines the experience of a dozen physically and/or psychologically wounded American soldiers who have returned from war. After watching this film, it reminds us that not only was the promise of armistice broken, but so too is the promise of doing everything possible for the men and women who have served.

This promise is broken to such a degree that some people even suggested that the documentary not be seen because it was too political, uncomfortable, and reveals some shortfalls in the system meant to care for veterans. I disagree. While it might be easier for the current administration to not hear the needs of veterans, we can be thankful people like Valentine and Bedik have given them a forum to be heard. They need to be heard.

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” — Colin Powell

Are you listening? We're listening. Not only to filmmakers like Valentine, but people like Toby Nunn, Ron Portillo, and Dana F. Harbaugh, author of Pearls of Honor: Their Duty to Remember, who served two overseas deployments aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-61) and participated in Operations Earnest Will, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and the Defense of the Kurdish Peoples. People who have a great respect for servicemen and women.

• The Soldierʼs Project helps provide free counseling and support to military service members who have served or who expect to serve in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan conflicts and to veterans of those conflicts.
Defending Freedom raises awareness and support for servicemen and women with its Defending Freedom wristbands.
Blue Star Mothers provides support for active duty service personnel, assists veterans organizations, and is available to assist in homeland volunteer efforts.
The Wounded Warrior Project raises awareness and enlists the aid of the public in meeting the needs of severely injured servicemen and women by providing direct services that honor and empower wounded warriors.
U.S. Vets provides housing, counseling, job assistance, and hope to thousands of homeless veterans each year.
Soldiers' Angels is an international, volunteer-led organization supporting America's men and women in uniform that supports more than 30 projects.

To that end, Veterans Day doesn't need to be confined to a single day of recognition or remembrance. Rather, it can be the day that you ask yourself if you are doing something, anything, for the men and women who have already done something for you, regardless of the country where you live. Good night and good luck.

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