My grandfather recently was able to participate in the Honor Flight Network‘s program as a World War II veteran. He served in the Navy and was stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked on December 7, 1941. I’ve always looked up to him and have been proud of his service to our country.
All over, people are recognizing veterans for their service. My entire Facebook feed is consumed with slogans and catchphrases that encapsulate our appreciation for the sacrifices service members like my grandfather and many others have made for the security of our country and the freedoms within. However, the sentiment rarely gets past the superficial.
I don’t mean to criticize those sentiments, but maybe it’s time to look deeper. We ask our students to think critically and to access their higher level thinking skills all the time. Maybe we should take a similar approach toward Veterans Day.
My grandfather’s story is more complex than his survival of Pearl Harbor. He met my grandmother before being shipped off to sea. They married after a courtship of less than a week. My aunt was born shortly after. He worked for oil companies and eventually took over the family mail service. The mail service lasted many years until the failing economy in and around Toledo caused him to retire and sell. Plus, the growth of global shipping corporations left little room for his small business. He now lives in a facility with my grandmother who suffers from dementia. They had to leave their home when he had a terrible fall, requiring constant care.
When I look at my grandfather’s life, I see a life lived that goes well beyond his identity as a veteran. However, all of these experiences relate to how his life was shaped through his service. This opens topics for discussion that get beyond the simple idea that veterans sacrifice so much for our freedoms. The questions that come to mind are as follows:
- How did my grandfather’s experience at Pearl Harbor affect him? How have similar experiences affected veterans of other wars and battles?
- What are the effects on family and relationships caused by war?
- How did my grandfather’s service prepare him for the work he did as a civilian? Have all veterans received the same kind of opportunities as my grandfather after their service?
- How does my grandfather feel about the effects of the current economic crisis on the country he fought so hard to protect and build? How has this crisis affected other veterans?
- How do veterans feel about the economic dependance our country shares with nations we have fought against in the past?
- What is care like for veterans after they have ended their service? Is it appropriate for the amount of service to our country they have provided?
This is just the tip of the ice berg, but these are important issues to discuss and study on Veterans Day. It’s not just about sacrifice. Veterans Day is about the kinds of sacrifices veterans have made and how they are being repaid for their service. It’s time to get past the surface of Veterans Day and really get to know why these men and women should be so revered.
Zac Early is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.