There are many graphics running around FaceBook at this time of year answering the question, “What’s the difference?” It seems there is much confusion around Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Armed Forces Day. Why do we spend so many days of the year honoring the same people over and over?
There is a huge difference you will be told. “We have to understand that this is not that, and these are not those.” This is the rally cry of explanation, separation, and difference. So what is the difference really?
When I was 17 years old I had few prospects after high school. No one was rushing to send a person that “graduated” in the bottom ten percent of their class a college education. I knew no trade, and no one was willing to invest in me. I was white, I was male, and if I did not know what I was doing the day after graduation, I would be homeless.
Originally I thought I might join the Air Force. Then I met an Army recruiter and my thinking changed. I was guaranteed to be trained for a specific job. This meant I could select something that I could use in the civilian world. The Army would invest in training me into a trade, and I got to pick it.
After listening to the recruiters “sales pitch,” I thought. It seemed that everyone has a blank check when they get out of high school. I was being asked to sign my blank check, in its entirety, over to Uncle Sam. This blank check was for the value of a person, up to and including… their all. I could be called on to die. My parents reminded me, that this was my choice to make. I could choose not to sign over the blank check.
If you chose to sign over your blank check to college for a time, or to a trade school. Or over to waitressing, or being the person that fixed my car, thank you. I really mean that, it means a lot to me that when I needed my car fixed, or dinner, I had someone to count on. If you do your job well, and make it so that I don’t have to do it, trash person or journalist, thank you.
I chose to do with my blank check the thing I thought mattered most. I invested in every citizen of this country. The war monger and the pacifist. The CIS gendered and not. Men and women. The practical and the dreamer. I wanted to be part of the reason that they all had a chance. I wanted to protect everyone else’s right to choose for themselves, because of how important that choice is to me.
I wanted to ensure that everyone in this country had the same freedom I did, and do. I knew that to ensure that could happen, people like me needed to hand over a blank check. So, like many before me I did exactly that.
I received an honorable discharge on October 11th of 2000. While I was in the Army, friends died. I went to funerals. Thankfully there are still those in the military working to offer me, my wife, and daughters freedom. “Rough men stand ready to do violence on my behalf.”
What is the difference between them and me? “But for the grace of god there go I.” What this says is, I was not in control of what happened, and it is little more than luck that I can write this. Someone had to go, they drew the low card. At the end of the day, we had the same training, and I was not a “super soldier.” That could be me in eternal rest.
As for being in the military, my time came and went. I am an old fat man now. I rant about politics. Complain about policy. I have trained service members. I get to sleep at night.
So on Memorial Day, or Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day, or whatever day it is. If you look at the similarities these three groups have, instead of the difference, and walk up to one of us and say, “Thank you.” I’ll say “You’re welcome.” But I offer you this, the best way to say thank you to me, and any member of the armed forces living or dead, is to sleep well.