Every morning when I go into the VA Medical Center I see vets sitting outside. Some of them are simply getting some sun, some are relaxing while waiting for their appointments, some are smoking. I am glad to see them every morning. While some change from day to day, many of them are the same day after day. They remind me of the old regulars at an old-fashioned barber shop of the folks at an old-fashioned general store. They sit and they chat. Since I am a grandfather myself, some days I stop and chat with them.
Before you think that all the veterans are male, they are not. Today I was talking with a grandmother with a patch over one eye. Some days I talk with a veteran from World War II. They are becoming more rare. Some days I talk with a Korean War veteran or a Viet Nam veteran. The younger veterans do not hang out as much as the older veterans, but I suspect that as they age, they too will eventually become those who hang out.
Tomorrow is July 4. But, when I think of Independence Day, I do not think of the fireworks or of the parades or of vast patriotic speeches. Rather, I think of these veterans that I see every day. They sit there; they talk with each other; they reminisce. They are not about being heroes. They are not about being patriots. They are often not about politics, though there is nothing like listening to a political discussion between two old vets sitting there, who are friends but disagree strongly. I wish more of us knew how to sit together, argue virulently, and then sit back and be friends.
They were not trying to be heroes. They were simply trying to survive and to not betray their comrades. Almost all were not serving for ideological reasons. They were in the service for various reasons. Some were drafted; some joined because of poverty; some joined because they thought they wanted to travel; some were escaping a civilian sentence by a judge’s mercy; some were indeed patriotic; some were serving because it was a family tradition. But, when the time came, just about each and every one of them did what was needful and were faithful to their comrades.
None of them expected to someday be old men and women sitting in the courtyard of a VA hospital reminiscing together. Actually, I am quite grateful that they are now able to do that. So, when you think of July 4, please do remember our Founding Fathers. Please do remember the Declaration of Independence. It is a key document for many reasons. But, please also remember not simply heroic stories, but also your neighbor who served, the veterans at the VA Medical Centers across the nation, the men and women who are part of your everyday lives and are veterans. All of us were simply doing what we needed to do, nothing more.