As we approach Veterans Day, I am reminded of the hundreds of times I would hear my grandfather say, “When I was in the Navy…” Unfortunately, I don’t really remember many of those stories now. Maybe I was too young to understand, or maybe it was a lack of interest on my part -- after all in my young mind, the stories were all long before my time. But as I sit here to type this 20 years later, I wish I had sat and listened more intently.
Both of my grandfathers are veterans – one served in the Navy, the other in the Air Force. My grandfather who served in the Navy loves to tell stories about his experience. My grandfather who served in the Air Force, however, doesn’t talk about it much. I’ll get a few things out of him occasionally, but for the most part, he keeps it close to the vest. And I’m sure that’s true for many veterans.
So why am I even writing about this? Well, the older I get, the more I realize how important these stories are. We all read in history books about wars, but I truly believe it comes to life when you hear it from someone who was there in a battlefield, fighting for our country.
In my career as a reporter, I interviewed several veterans and current military personnel and I always enjoyed hearing their stories. I will never forget attending a ceremony in Louisville on the 75th anniversary of D-Day with about 100 World War II veterans. I remember thinking how amazing it was to have that many WWII veterans in one room and that we likely wouldn’t get those veterans in the same room together again.
Whenever I hear stories about those who wear or have worn the uniform, I feel like I’m transported to another world. And most of the time, it’s hard to imagine the sacrifice of not seeing or talking to their loved ones, sleeping wherever they can, and putting themselves in harm’s way to defend their country.
It’s not just about these veterans though, it’s about their families, too: the spouses who hold down the fort at home while their loved one is away on deployment, the parents who watch their children commit to wearing the uniform. They sacrifice too.
The importance of listening to and sharing veterans’ stories is to help preserve their memory and remind us of where we’ve been both as a country and world. Their stories can help younger generations learn how to not repeat history.
So how do you even go about asking a veteran about their time in the service? I normally start with asking how long they served and what their job was. That usually opens the door to more questions –were you drafted, or did you enlist? Were you deployed? If so, where to and for how long? What was it like?
This Veterans Day, I encourage you—talk to a veteran. It may not only be helpful for them, but you’ll likely gain a new perspective on life.