The official definition of a veteran is someone who served their country in the armed services. However, I think this definition is lacking something significant. Heart. It does not express the sacrifices service men and women make. It does not demonstrate their love for country. It does not reveal their dedication to serving citizens, or their passion for freedom. The definition is bland and monotone. Veterans, on the other hand, are colorful people. They are men and women. They are all colors, religions, and cultures. They are men who left their wives and children to serve in wartime. They are people who kept the peace. They are women who fly across the world while someone else tucks their kids in at night. They are those who return to duty after being POWs, and those who sacrificed a limb or peace of mind for our security.
Veterans are as varied as we are. They are human, and they would be the first to tell you that. They are as diverse as our nation, each one individual with all the same complexities as any person. They do their jobs like everybody else…it just so happens that their jobs are dodging bullets, jumping out of planes, and rummaging through houses in foreign lands looking for terrorists. They push papers, program computers, and load planes. They coordinate things, organize people, and pray.
They signed up for numerous reasons, but they all are unified under the same flag. Across the years, they have served and fought, and died for us. They have sweated, and bled for us. How can one define this kind of devotion? Words in a dictionary are insufficient for this task. To see the true picture of a veteran you must look them in the eye. Shake their hands. Have a conversation. Listen to their stories. Thank them.
For those already gone, you must remember them. How they were. What they loved…and who they loved. Think of their smile. Hear their heartfelt laughter…and their tears. Remember their smell…was it peppermint, or cologne, or pipe tobacco? Most of all remember their love for their family, their friends and their country. Their hearts were big. The story they told with their lives is woven into the fabric of our country.
The lives of veterans whether here or gone, are painted in rich color with broad strokes that cover our land. Each branch of the military has its own shade, but when they all come together they blend into an image worthy of honoring…a portrait of the heart of a people who love freedom and would sacrifice their lives to gain it. My definition of veteran is one who knows the risks and takes them anyway, one who considers serving our country a calling, one who willingly, voluntarily sacrifices blood, sweat and tears for freedom. One who does not like accolades, and prefers to remain honest and true. One who gives up family time to do his/her job to ensure that our family time is not threatened. The heart of a veteran is as devoted as it is complex, as determined as it is compassionate. Today is Veteran’s Day…a day we say, “Thank you for your heart.”