For Veterans Day, we asked five veterans a question we hoped would spark reflection on the importance of veterans in our society:

What would you like people to know about being a veteran?

Their responses are as diverse as the walks of life from which they come and the periods during which they served. Still, some commonalities are easy to identify: pride of service, a sense of duty to country, and often a sense of discomfort at being singled out for their service. Writ large, it’s similar to those who would downplay their heroic acts with the simple remark, “I was just doing my job.”

While the comments below by no means represent the feelings of all veterans, we think they’re worthy of reflection on this day we’ve reserved to honor those who’ve served in our armed forces. 

If you are a veteran, what does that title mean to you? And what would you want others to know?

 

After all these years, I’m still humbled when people thank me for my service. I’m in the VFW and it’s a good feeling to see the patriotism of people clapping for us when we march in our small-town parade. The pride is still there even though there are some who are indifferent. I would like to see people care more about our wounded vets, and participate in honor flights and other programs for vets. There are many ways to say, “Thanks for your service.”

Army Specialist 5
Vietnam war
4 years of service

 

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While support for the troops is certainly important and unquestionably appreciated by the military as a whole, being approached and thanked individually is a tad bit unnerving. For one, I have benefited from my service more than anyone; and two, there is always someone who has given and sacrificed more.

Sergeant, Active Guard Reserve
10 years of service

 

Many veterans I know don’t put much thought into the title. Personally, I don’t even like to think of myself that way. I know that many others have sacrificed much more than I ever did. The term veteran is often overused in today’s society. The experiences of different Service members vary greatly and it’s incredibly difficult to define all of us or what we actually experienced with one word. With that being said, it’s important to remember that all Service members raised their right hand, took an oath, and volunteered to serve in whatever capacity they did. That should be celebrated at the very least.

Sergeant, Maryland Army National Guard
8 years of service 

 

Being a veteran is not something I think a lot about. Mostly, I try not to—it’s said and done. A lot of people don’t appreciate what I did so I don’t bring it up—you don’t know who you might run into. I had a job to do and I did it. It was for a good reason.

Army Sergeant
Iraq War, Surge
4 years of service

 

The best thing about being a veteran is pride in having served the country. Also, it makes you feel like you’ve earned the right to be an American.

Army Lieutenant
Cold War
4 years of service

 

As we observe Veterans Day, it’s appropriate to echo the words of George Washington, who foresaw, long before Veterans Day became a national commemoration, that the strength of our nation’s military is in direct proportion to the citizenry’s respect for veterans:

The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.

President George Washington