I’m proud to live in a state that takes care of its veterans. From property tax exemptions to complimentary state park admission, from vocational rehabilitation to specialty license plates, Texas has numerous policies in place to support veterans and ease the visible and invisible burdens they bring home after armed conflict.
I attended the 2013 Veterans Day Ceremony on the steps of the Texas State Capitol with certain expectations – given our state’s track record for veterans. After the morning’s parade up Congress Avenue concluded, veterans, public officials, and Austin residents gathered for an hour-long ceremony.
Many speakers took the podium during the ceremony. Multiple government officials gave addresses, resolutions were read, hands were clapped.
There were two standout speeches. The first was given by a World War II veteran with a Purple Heart. He spoke simply and briefly, the microphone hardly picking up his voice. He said he didn’t attend to be personally recognized, but to stand for all the men and women who served alongside him. Filled with humility and honor, he exemplifies the Greatest Generation.
The second highlight of the ceremony was a young veteran, recently returned from the Middle East. He was slightly overwhelmed by the crowd, but found the courage to tell his story. He had returned home plagued by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and fell into substance abuse. Through help from the VA Mental Health Clinic here in Austin and his own efforts to recover, this former soldier was able to speak with hope for his future.
The crowd, myself included, took time out of our Monday to stand with these men and their comrades in arms. Unfortunately, as the lengthy program ran its course, something seemed absent. With no disrespect intended toward the organizers of the event, parts of the proceedings seemed lifeless and off-course. The highlights I just mentioned were buried among what bordered on political speeches, made by officials who seemed to be anticipating the next election.
And as I looked around at the many children who had been brought along by their parents, I was saddened by their lack of engagement. They were left playing in the background, with an occasional shush from mom or dad, rather than sitting up front being impacted by the importance of the day.
Like everything in life, Austin’s Veterans Day Ceremony should be guided by goals. Why are we all gathering? What are we trying to accomplish?
If the answer to those two questions is as simple as “we want to recognize veterans on Veterans Day,” we’ll get by fine by going through the motions. That’s what yesterday felt like.
But that’s not enough for me. It’s not enough for me as I sit next to my husband, a retired Chief Petty Officer who served in the United States Coast Guard for twenty years, and ponder the wounds that he carries every day. It’s not enough for me as I stand next to one of the officers of the local Disabled American Veterans chapter, as she practically jumps out of her skin when the Color Guard sounds their rifles.
Going through the motions isn’t enough for our veterans. It doesn’t match the sacrifice they’ve made for us and our country.
So for next year’s ceremony, I hope the powers that be will have additional goals in mind for the Veterans Day Ceremony.
- Educate the public, especially children. Instead of playing in the background, how could the children at yesterday’s ceremony have been invited to participate? What about a tent for select veterans, where attendees could thank them for their service and ask them to tell their stories? What an impact that one-on-one experience could have on a child. Or what about an art tent for children, where they could make thank you cards for veterans and hand them out right there at the event? These are not expensive ideas, nor are they complicated to implement.
- Put the spotlight on veterans. I didn’t attend the ceremony to hear speeches from government officials. Yes, I recognize they were thanking veterans. But I was much more impacted by hearing from the veterans themselves. Let’s have more of that. Let’s honor them by giving them the spotlight, rather than burying their short speeches amid a host of others.
- Consider multimedia presentations. Yesterday’s ceremony was partly in tribute to the new VA outpatient clinic, the largest in the United States. 25,000 veterans have already been served. The road to opening the clinic was marked by delays and setbacks, so its opening was that much more exciting. But for those who haven’t been, and have no reason to go, it’s difficult to understand the impact of this clinic on our community’s veterans. So how about a slideshow, or a walk-through tour on video? How about brief interviews with veterans who have been touched by this new resource? Multimedia presentations could be used to educate and engage the public on the importance of resources like this.
I’m grateful that Austin hosts a Veterans Day Ceremony at the Capitol, and I hope it continues for years to come. But let’s avoid going through the motions. Unless we foster a culture that truly values our freedoms and the price paid to earn and retain them, future generations won’t know that it takes a fight to hold on to something good.
What are your thoughts?