What Veterans Day Means to Me


Veterans Day is observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. It is a celebration to honor all of America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. (Adapted from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

What Veterans Day Means to Me

My husband is a veteran. He spent 15 months in Iraq as part of the surge in 2007-2008. Two weeks before he deployed, he proposed to me on a Lake Erie pier as we stood together, holding hands. After I practically insisted that he kneel and ask me again, I said yes to a life with him and to a life with the Army. We were ready to take on the world, but first we would have to be worlds apart.

He missed holidays, birthdays, and almost all of our wedding planning. When he returned to Kansas with his unit, he came home to a dark, empty hotel room without any family or friends waiting for him.

Not all veterans get to jump out of a box and surprise their loved ones on a talk show, and not all veterans get a teary-eyed, balloon-drop reunion. It is one of my deepest regrets—that I didn’t wrap my arms around him as soon as he touched American soil and tell him that we would face the rest of life’s battles together.

I was in graduate school, and my program wouldn’t allow me to take off time to see him. So I waited until that weekend and nervously flew to Kansas City and then to Fort Riley on a rainy Friday evening in December. I remember fiddling with my engagement ring, hoping we recognize each other.

Along the way, I read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien—a novel about American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. It was an assignment for my Adolescent Literature course at the time, and it opened my eyes to a new reality. He didn’t just carry a weapon and heavy, camouflaged bags but also the weight of love, fear, and maybe regret for anything he did or didn’t do.

He earned medals and ribbons during that deployment, but they are packed away. Now that we have our little one, those honors don’t seem as important. He doesn’t want to be put on a pedestal.

But I want to remember his bravery and our shared sacrifice. So every Veterans Day, I give him yellow flowers. I chose yellow because it’s used to show support for service men and women and flowers because he can’t hide them in a storage closet with his awards.

Best of all, our daughter can help me pick them out this year. I can already see her face scrunched up as she sniffs each bouquet before making her final selection. In the future, it will be a way to talk about her dad’s commitment to the country and his glory days in the field.

More than anything, it’s a subtle way to say thank you for your service, thank you for your courage, and thank you for building this yellow ribbon life with me.

Simple Ways to Support Veterans and Their Families

  1. Go to community Veterans Day activities. Pittsburgh’s Veterans Day Parade kicks off on Liberty Avenue this morning, and the Heinz History Center hosts a flag ceremony later in the day. Many of the boroughs have their own celebrations, too.
  2. Visit the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. It’s a beautiful building downtown Pittsburgh, and its tag line is “Honor them with your presence.” Admission is always free for members of the military and veterans.
  3. Send a Treat to Troops! If you have extra Halloween candy, Operation Gratitude will send it to soldiers currently stationed overseas. Check here to see a map of locations accepting candy, and visit their Facebook page for information about other types of care packages.
  4. Find children’s books about service members and Veterans Day at your local library. Picture books are wonderful for simplifying the complexities of war and then explaining the importance of honoring those men and women who have served. One of my favorites is The Wall by Eve Bunting.
  5. Thank veterans and their families. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.