In the States, it's Veteran's Day, one (1) day out of 365 when the media (with a perky smile) reminds you to say thanks to a veteran (and moves on to weather, traffic & sports); in the Commonwealth countries, it's Remembrance Day, functioning much as Memorial Day does here, and those poppies you see recall the ones that bloomed across the ghastly Great War landscape and symbolize the fallen.
However observed, however marked, we remember and honor those who fought, who served....on a day when they stopped fighting. At one eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, nearly a century ago, along the crawling gray scars that disfigured the landscape, the guns fell silent.
The men and women who fight wars, who treat the wounded, they don't start them and it's rare enough they officially end them; they do not choose their battles. When their country called, they served. Call them patriots, call them dupes -- they hear it often enough, too often, from fools and cowards, from those who never "saw the elephant" and never will --they stepped up. And they all sacrifice; even in peacetime, it's not safe work, it's not well-paid work. It's a kaleidoscope for every pundit and demagogue, every pacifist and non-serving hawk: each has an opinion, an image, a stereotype, and they slap it on the nearest veteran.
It's a mistake. Men as different at Jimmy Stewart and George McGovern served, went out there and did the job alongside people you've never heard of and never will. All individuals. Not a one was abstract or symbolic: real people, most of them cogs in a vast, harsh enterprise, flesh and blood against steel and lead.
You'll hear a lot of rah-rah about freedom today and perhaps you should (it'll give something to ponder at TSA checkpoints, won't it?) but this day isn't about that, either. It's about the people who went into danger, brave or scared, reluctant or eager, and came back hale or hurt; it's about all those who took the oath and did jobs that were "merely" difficult, dirty, dull-- They served. They served while the guns were firing and when the guns fell silent.
Stop a moment, in your comfortable life, and thank a veteran.
4 weeks ago