Vernon J. Baker received the Medal of Honor for his heroic service during World War II. He died in 2010, and his picture is on display at the Pentagon. Baker’s words about the impact of war on the lives of those who serve are carefully inscribed below his photo:
“War is the most regrettable proving ground. Those who launch it, and those who seek to create heroes from it, should remember war’s legacy. You have to be there to appreciate its horrors — and die to forget them.”
Too many veterans in our country know firsthand the truth of these words. Veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and now the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are each living their own war’s legacy. For many, that legacy is one of pride for serving to protect America’s freedoms.
For some, however, the legacy includes unhealed wounds of the body, mind or spirit; living with addictions, broken relationships, nightmares. Some feel shame or guilt because of what they did — or didn’t do — in times of war. Others suffer a deep sense of grief because of what and who they lost.
Though we hate war, and may even disagree on the justification for certain wars, we are morally obligated to recognize the sacrifices of those who have served on our behalf.
In return, we should care for them in their times of need.
Today, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say “Thank you for your service.” Those words were rarely heard a generation ago. And, while any words undoubtedly fall embarrassingly short of healing the wounds of war, it’s possibly the only way to truly acknowledge what veterans have given us — and our nation.
Thousands of humble, unassuming veterans live in America today. You pass them on the street, stand in line with them at the post office, and maybe even scorn one sleeping on a park bench.
Don’t ever forget them — or the thousands more who didn’t make it home — for bravely serving our country and protecting the dozens of freedoms we Americans enjoy every single day of our lives. We are grateful to you, though we never really show it.
Know that we take it all for granted and only express our thanks one day a year. We rarely stop to consider the sacrifices you have made — and continue to make — as war rages on in the world. We are more indebted to you than we will ever be able to comprehend.
The truth is, none of us deserves what you do.
Unless we ourselves have been in battle, we cannot fully understand your depth of passion for liberty. To cowards, you are a shaming presence and constant reminder of their weakness. To your parents, you represent an emotional dichotomy of both pride and concern that only mothers and fathers can ever know.
And, to most of us ordinary citizens, you are the unseen, under-appreciated protectors of everything that we hold dear.
You, our soldiers, continue to be the greatest force for freedom and human rights ever gathered. You have raised our flag around the world, not for domination, but to bring greater liberty and a better way of life. You are the reason America remains a beacon of hope to many in this world.
You are our best, our brightest, our bravest. Please know that even when we don’t show it, we think of you and appreciate all you have sacrificed for our freedoms.
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