Art Callaham: One day not enough to honor veterans

November 25, 2012|By ART CALLAHAM

There should be a Veterans Month, not just Veterans Day. One day is not enough time to commemorate the sacrifices, most often courageously made by veterans on behalf of this great nation and its people. I never really thought about a monthlong observance recognizing veterans until this year.

Veterans Day, Nov. 11, fell on a Sunday, so the outpouring of support for veterans seemed to cover a longer period than in years past. As a veteran, I participated in commemorations starting on Friday, Nov. 9, through Monday, Nov. 12.  Once that sequence started and concluded, it didn’t seem enough in spite of this “extra long weekend” series of events.

Over that four-day period, I met veterans and active service members (one day to become veterans) from wars and conflicts dating from late 1941 through today (quite literally, I met an active member who had returned from Afghanistan on Nov. 8 and one leaving for Afghanistan on Nov. 15). 

Each veteran or active member I spoke with had a story, and by no means did I talk to every veteran living and residing in our community. According to the Maryland Veterans Administration, there are 12,000 veterans living in Washington County and nearly 500,000 living in Maryland.

But the individual veteran is not the only story. Using a conservative multiplier of four to estimate the friends and families of veterans, we have nearly 50,000 in Washington County and almost 2 million statewide. Each of them also has a story — often a story of sacrifice. Is one day a year enough time to hear all of those stories? I, for one, don’t think so.

Let me answer a question that I have been asked on numerous occasions: “What or who is a veteran?” I like the following definition, which was penned by an unknown author: “A veteran is someone who, at one point in his/her life, wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America,’ for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.’”

In actuality, there is no standardized legal definition of “veteran” in the United States. You see, veterans benefits weren’t created all at one time. They’ve been added one by one for more than 200 years by Congress. Each time Congress passed a new law authorizing and creating a new veterans benefit, they included eligibility requirements for that particular benefit. Whether or not one is considered a “veteran” by the federal government depends entirely upon which veterans program or benefit for which one is applying.

However, for my purposes, those who have served (active duty or any form of Reserve duty) in the United States Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine are “veterans” if they are: military members on active duty or in the Selected Reserve; former military members who served on active duty and departed under conditions other than dishonorable; former military members who completed at least one term of enlistment or period of initial obligated service in the Selected Reserve and departed under conditions other than dishonorable; or former military members discharged from the Selected Reserve due to a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.

Anyone who meets the definition of “veteran” in the preceding paragraph has my respect and admiration for the sacrifices they, their families and friends have made for this nation. Thank you for your service and, if it is applicable, welcome home.

I can’t close this column without telling about my long weekend attending veterans’ events. I attended a wonderful commemoration and dinner at Northern Middle School on Friday, Nov. 9. From being welcomed by students and faculty, through a patriotic program that included young voices singing our national anthem, “United We Stand,” and “God Bless America,” and concluding with a meal and a plethora of gifts provided by local businesses, it was an event that warmed this old soldier’s heart.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Nov. 10-12, were filled with ceremonies in Hagerstown, Smithsburg and other venues; great speakers; solemn remembrances; and looks into the past and future for our military. 

I believe it’s fitting and proper that the month of November ends with our national Thanksgiving holiday — one more day to be thankful for all our blessings and the sacrifices made by our veterans.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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