The Veteran Administration (VA) provides the following general definition of a Veteran. The complete definition can be found in title 38 U.S.C. Section 101.
A person who served on full time active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, other than active duty for training, and was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.
An individual who died while serving on active duty, or was disabled or died from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty while performing active duty for training or inactive duty training.
Certain members of a reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Certain members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (formerly the Coast and Geodetic Survey) and the regular or reserve Corps of the Public Health Service.
FEDERAL DEFINITION: under Federal Law a VETERAN is any person, who served honorably on active duty in the armed forces of the United States. (Discharges marked GENERAL AND UNDER HONORABLE CONDITIONS also qualify.)
The above is a definition used in determining status for those to apply to the VA, but it got me thinking. What does the general public (civilians) consider a veteran?
Do they think it is a person who served in the military, and leave it at that? A blanket statement with no knowledge of what that sentence could actually contain?
Over the years, I have been honored to be part of a veteran family as well as being able to meet and speak with so many other veterans from across this nation and from all eras.
From my own perspective; a veteran is:
A person who entered into the military, whether by draft or by volunteering and served their country honorably.
Now look around you, look close; that older gentleman you spoke to a while back, the one with a cane, walking slightly hunched over. He is a World War II (WWII) Veteran. Some people may not put much thought into it; ?WWII? That was so long ago!?
What do I see? I see a man who more than likely had more courage and patriotism than I could imagine. That older man, with fading blue eyes, still has the heart of an 18 year old soldier. Picture him standing upright, in uniform, rushing the beaches of Normandy or marching through snow in the H?rtgen or Ardennes Forest. Picture him as the gunner in a tank or jumping from an airplane into enemy territory, see him running through the streets of small villages with explosions and gun fire surrounding him or liberating a concentration camp.
What about that gentleman with the Korean War ball cap on? Can you picture an 18 or 19 year soldier marching through subzero temperatures with clothing that was grossly inadequate to keep warm? That man probably suffered from frost bite and countless ailments and aches, but kept going. That man may have been a prisoner of war for months or even years. Can you picture that? Do you even want to try to imagine what he may have gone through?
Now look at the man with the leather vest on, the one with a Vietnam patch on it. Do you see a young man far from home, slogging through the jungle with incredibly high temperatures and humidity with torrential rains that seem to never end? Do you see a man that wore wet clothing for days on end and at times they simply rotted off of him? Do you see a man working feverishly to save his ?brother? in the jungles of Vietnam? Do you see the lady with a Vietnam patch? Yes, she was there too. She was a nurse, right out there on the front lines doing her best to help and save our soldiers, working hour after hour, day after day with no sleep, no breaks and clothes filthy with sweat, dirt and the blood of those she worked so hard to keep comfortable or save.
What about the younger lady in line front of you at the store; did you notice her? She was in the Marines, serving right along with the men, sleeping in the sand with weapon close by. She may have been the nurse who helped your son or daughter or the pilot flying reconosence missions. She is a young lady who suffers countless sleepless nights with the weight of guilt upon her shoulders because she couldn?t save that one soldier. She?s also a mother and works full time. She loves God, her country and her family, just as most ?veterans? do.
What about that big guy? You know, the one with all the tattoos, long hair or big bushy beard and riding a Harley? Yea, that one; he?s an Army Medic, recently retired from the military after serving his country for over 20 years. He can perform surgery in conditions you could not even fathom, but isn?t qualified to be a LPN or a nurse when he returns home. He?s the guy who carries countless faces with him, of those he treated, of children injured horribly after a terrorist bomb went off at a school or in a market place; he rides that Harley to find peace.
Do you notice the teacher, doctor, lawyer, store clerk, mechanic, business man, counselor, coach or the person beside you in church each Sunday, the Pastor and countless others? They are our veterans. They have selflessly given to their country and given more of themselves than we know.
Not everyone who has served in the military has been in direct combat or ?War? time. Those folks? They are the ones who kept the supplies running, the food coming, the communications going and the logistics of any given mission. They are the ones who protected our country and others during times of war and ?peace?. Remember the Cold War? They are the ones who were protecting NATO sites around the globe, serving in countless countries where there was and is civil unrest. Not technically a ?war? and not recognized as such. They are the ones who never left stateside, providing the support from this side of the pond, helping in natural disasters and civil unrest on our own shores and much more. They are here, serving our country.
So what is a veteran?
To me, a veteran is a person who served their country honorably, a person who carries countless memories with them, a person who appreciates what they have, who loves their country and their flag and will not stand for either to be treated with disrespect. A veteran is someone who loves and cares for their brother and sister veterans and will do most anything to help them in times of need.
A veteran is a person who cares deeply about humanity after personally having seen the worst of it.
Am I an authority on this? Heck no, this is just my perspective from being a part of and spending years within the veteran community. Maybe, just maybe, after reading this, something will click with you and you will find yourself taking a closer look at those around you, and be thankful.
God bless America and those who defend her.
Kim Lengling is a local author, co-chair of Project Support Our Troops and Co-Founder of Embracing Our Veterans. She can be reached at [email protected] or by visiting www.embracingourveterans.org