Quick question: can you name your favorite holiday?
I think most people will answer with, Thanksgiving. Some will say Christmas, a few moms might rightly say Mother’s Day and a few college students (or forty-year old men who still think they are college students) might say St. Patrick’s. And that’s fair.
How many people would say, Veterans’ Day?
I am guessing, not very many.
For the record, Veterans’ Day is my favorite holiday, but not for the reasons you may think. Sure, I’m a veteran myself, and I’m a life member of my local VFW post in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. I’m proud of being a vet, and when I meet another vet on the street or at the bar, I love swapping stories. But I don’t say Veterans’ Day is my favorite holiday because I’m expecting flowers or cards or dinner out, like moms deservedly get on Mother’s Day. (Also for the record, I’m a guy, and I love flowers.) It’s not that kind of holiday, to me. No, Veterans’ Day is my favorite holiday of all because it’s the one day of the year where everyday folks like you and me reflect on just how many great veterans we have in our lives: fathers, aunts, brothers, wives, children, best friends, old friends, neighbors. The rest of the year, all too often the veterans in our lives somehow become invisible. I think we can agree that every day should be Veterans’ Day, to honor the service and sacrifice of the folks we know who were in the armed forces. But I’ll take one day, all the same.
We’ve only celebrated Veterans’ Day formally in America since 1954, when Congress changed “Armistice Day” honoring the end of World War I to a holiday for all veterans. That’s why it’s on November 11: peace after the Great War was said to have been found at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It’s a holiday with real meaning for many; but too often, it gets put on the same level as things like Arbor Day and National Sandwich Day (no offense meant to trees, or sandwiches.) It’s odd that so many people get crazy over a day like Valentine’s Day, which commemorates the stoning of Saint Valentine when he refused to deny his faith, and so few of us devote the same energy to a day like Veterans’ Day, which honors the folks we see and talk to every single day. School children get Nov. 11 off from school, but I’m not sure they know why.
That’s why Veterans’ Day is my favorite holiday. Because it’s a true underdog, and if you know me, you know I am a big fan of the underdog. (Mets fan? Check. Jets fan? Yup.) If you think about it, we have millions of underdogs living all around us, veterans who sacrificed a lot for everyone, and yet we probably don’t celebrate them the way we should. The statistics on the way we treat our vets today are sobering: a quarter of the American homeless population are veterans, for example. And the VA estimates 70% of those suffer from some kind of mental illness, primarily PTSD.
So why not make Veterans’ Day your favorite holiday, too? The best part is, it’s the easiest holiday to celebrate. You don’t need to buy anything, you don’t need to make anything, and you don’t need to find a giant, floppy cardboard heart and shiny balloons to leave at someone’s doorstep. No, all Veterans’ Day requires is a phone call, or a letter, or a knock on your neighbor’s door. Think of all the vets you have in your life. There’s probably a lot, everyone from your dad or grandma to the guy who puts a smile on your face every time you walk into the supermarket. You don’t know his name, but you should.
What’s the best thing you can say to a vet on Veterans’ Day? You may say simply, “Thank you for your service,” and that’s pretty good. But I think the best thing you can say to a vet is, “Tell me a story.” Go ahead and try it: I can almost guarantee that you will see a face light up. Everyone knows our veterans have the best stories in the world. They just need someone to tell them to. Why not you?
That’s what we’re trying to do with our Tales from the VFW project: honor our American vets by honoring the stories they tell. We believe that for veterans, every story is a war story. We want to hear them all. If you have a veteran in your life with a story to tell, we hope you’ll find our more about our narrative project by visiting our contact and submission page via Submittable.
So, if your favorite holiday is still Thanksgiving, I don’t blame you. There are few things as good as that feeling you get after a family meal with all the trimmings. But I can think of one feeling that’s even better: talking to a veteran in your life, and listening to a story they want to tell. Yes, to me, that’s probably the best feeling in the whole world.
Happy Veterans’ Day!