Opinion: Veterans Day revisited


Published: 11-11-2023 6:00 AM

John Buttrick writes from his Vermont Rocker in his Concord home: Minds Crossing. He can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com

Waiting to be seated at a restaurant we frequent, I noticed a sign offering veterans and their spouses free breakfasts or lunches on Veterans Day. While talking about it with friends, a man wearing a Coast Guard cap asked me if I was a veteran. I uneasily answered with a simple, “yes.” He compliantly and quietly said, “Thank you for your service.” (According to a veteran’s poll (CVN), “49% of vets feel uneasy with the expression, ‘Thank you for your service.’ They weren’t sure how to respond.”)

To cover my anxiety concerning this too oft automatic, “thank you,” I observed to the veteran, “I notice you were in the Coast Guard.” Then I continued, “If I had to do it all over I would become a Coast Guard medic instead of being drafted into the Army.”

I didn’t explain that carrying a weapon was not in my wheelhouse. Of course, I know in time of war, the Coast Guard may be turned into a fighting force. But, I didn’t explain that my conscience is more compatible with the Coast Guard’s mission to be “the principal Federal agency responsible for maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship in U.S. ports and inland waterways, along more than 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline, throughout the 4.5 million square miles of U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).”

So those were my thoughts as I processed the good intentions of “thank you for your service.” I do not feel that time in the military deserves more accolades than any other line of work. Many may feel it is sometimes necessary to go to war, but many do not want themselves to be glorified nor to glorify war.

Amanda Haworth reports a veteran she interviewed for military.com said, “People have different callings in life, so I don’t necessarily feel that my choice to serve in the military has made me any more or less entitled to gratitude than any other position of service.”

Another veteran said, “I don’t feel like I deserve a ‘thank you’ ... I signed up, did my job and went home, just like everyone else.” Many veterans interviewed reported being tired of the obligatory, “Thank you for your service,” said one retired marine. Another said, that people acknowledging that most veterans do not serve to seek fame and glory, will go further than thanking them for their service ever could.

This weekend includes the federal holiday, Veterans Day. Military.com explains that “until 1954, Veterans Day was known as Armistice Day, officially recognizing the armistice agreement that ended WWI on Nov. 11, 1918. Even though WWI was hopefully termed ‘the war to end all wars,’ it was anything but.”

It is disturbing that many have become so cynical that they will accept the inevitability of war after war, destroying the optimism of an Armistice Day. To justify this change and make it palatable, Veterans Day is often promoted as a time to glorify the ways and wages of war and glorify each past and future generation of men and women who are called to participate.

So, back to the invitation to veterans to have free breakfasts or lunches with a spouse on Veterans Day. It seems I’ve talked myself out of accepting that gift. I don’t want to be one who is willing to receive praise for military service with its consequence of advancing the ways of war into the future. However, maybe I will invite my spouse to a free lunch — not for the glory, but for having to postpone and give up three years of a rewarding civilian career because I was drafted.

Also, maybe I could accept a free lunch with my wife, as an infinitesimal consolation for having to postpone our wedding for three years because of the draft. We could have added to our fifty-eight years of marriage three more years of lunches and three more years with our children and grandchildren.

A free lunch! Thank you for serving us.