Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veterans Day. No matter what name, the sentiment is the same; a day to honor the men and women who have served in the military, in peacetime or fought in a war, but are no longer serving in the Armed Forces.
As a kid, I don’t ever remember anything special about the day. Maybe we didn’t have school or maybe it’s because I grew up in the 70’s when there was so much civil unrest about our involvement in Vietnam. Whatever the reason, I hold no memories of anything special about November 11th.
I remember when recognizing our military became important to me; 1991, my third year teaching, the first Gulf War. The men and women fighting were my age, and many were my friends. Teaching 5th grade meant teaching Social Studies and American History, and I felt very strongly that we could not ignore the history being written in the Gulf. I had my class write letters to military personnel I knew: a Marine, a Navy pilot, an Army infantryman, and a member of the Army’s 82nd airborne. All four communicated back to my students, and all four made it home safely.
It might have been just another Social Studies lesson had it not been for the dad of one of my students; a dad who had served in Vietnam. He took the time to thank me for teaching my class to acknowledge and honor those serving in the military, and he reminded me that our country hadn’t always treated our returning military with respect. Twenty years later, I still think of that each Veterans Day.
I left my 5th grade classroom for a district-wide teaching position three years ago, but I still organize the Veterans Day assembly at my former elementary school. I work with 10-12 4th graders (oldest kids in the building now) on speaking parts about the importance of Veterans Day. All classes make thank you cards that I mail to the closest VA Hospital.(This year’s collection is pictured below.) We invite the families in the neighborhood to come. Members of the local American Legion Post join us for the posting of the colors. The students lead the Pledge of Allegiance and sing The Star Spangled Banner. The 4th graders share what they have learned, and we observe a moment of silence, and then the American Legion Post closes with a rifle volley and the playing of Taps. It only lasts about 20 minutes. I’m not sure our youngest students fully understand what we’re talking about, but I know the older ones do. They listen, and they notice the reaction of the Veterans who are there with us; Veterans, who like that dad twenty years ago, say thank you because we are teaching our students to recognize the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served in the military.
Regardless of your feelings about our military’s involvement in conflicts, current or past, Veterans Day is a time to put those feelings aside and thank the men and women who put their lives on the line so that we can live in freedom. You never know how far-reaching that thank you can be.