Why Veterans Day is different from Memorial Day

The short answer to the question is a little blunt. Memorial Day is for remembering those who died in service to their country. Veterans Day is for not forgetting those who served and lived to tell about it.

It is easy to think of the two holidays as interchangeable. Why not? Honor everybody on both days, right?

Again, the answer is blunt. It could be right in front of you everyday. Have you ever walked or driven past a disheveled guy on the street holding a hand-lettered cardboard sign asking you to help? Did his sign say that he is a veteran?

Did you ignore him? Again, it’s easy to do. Just tell yourself that he probably just wants money for alcohol or drugs, that he’s probably not even a veteran. Continue on your way. I’ve done that more often than not.

Sometimes, though, I think back to this guy who lived on my street when I was growing up. I think his name was Bill. Anyway, Bill went off to fight in the Korean War and he didn’t come home whole. The whispered diagnosis in the neighborhood was that he was “shell-shocked.” Now we call it post-traumatic stress disorder but I think shell-shocked is a better, more visceral description. It’s very blunt.

Bill never fully recovered. He was from a big family, however, and he never had to resort to panhandling to get by. That was a different time, though, and if Bill did his tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, he might have had a harder time coming home.

So this Veterans Day – in fact, for the rest of this month – give that guy with the cardboard sign the benefit of the doubt. At least stop long enough to say “hello.” I bet this guy hasn’t been thanked for his service for a long, long time.

And if you have some spare change or a couple of dollars, make that your thank-you. Is it going to do any good? Maybe. Maybe not. But who are we to judge this guy over how he gets by day to day?

Finally, if you want to do more for veterans, there are a lot of organizations serving veterans that can make your generosity go a long way.   It will only take a few minutes on the internet to find them. Or, to make this even simpler, I recommend the donation page on the New England Center and Home for Veterans’. Look around at the program pages while you’re there.

Then go back to the donation page and make a contribution. Because, to be really, really blunt? It’s the least you can do.