There are two major holidays when we honor the men and women of our armed forces. On Memorial Day, we pay tribute to military personnel who died in the line of duty. And on Veterans Day, we express gratitude to all those who honorably served, both living and departed.
Every day — and especially on Veterans Day — we should take time to thank the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who wore our nation’s uniform. We should let the veterans in our life know we appreciate the sacrifices they made to keep this country free, democratic, and secure.
A handshake, or even a hug, can go a long way. Veterans tend to be humble, and to deflect praise, but I hope they take quiet pride upon realizing how much their service matters to the American public they swore to defend.
Veterans Day has intense personal meaning for me. When I was an infant, my parents, my brother and I fled communist Vietnam by boat, but we became stranded at sea. A U.S. Navy vessel came to our rescue, refueling and resupplying us, and helping us arrive safely in Malaysia.
After a period of time at a refugee camp, we made the passage to the United States and ultimately became proud and patriotic American citizens. Because of this formative experience, members of the U.S. military have always personified bravery and discipline, to be sure, but for me, they have also exemplified generosity and grace.
After 9/11, I went to work as a civilian employee at the Defense Department, where I became colleagues and — over time — close friends with many service members. I spent long hours with them, shared countless meals with them, and comforted their families when they deployed to war. I grieved when they returned home with physical or psychological wounds, and mourned in those terrible instances when they did not come home at all.
These relationships served to transform my childhood reverence for the U.S. military into something even more real — a deep, enduring respect.
The truth is that military service is honorable, but it is also hard. Men and women in uniform endure conditions and circumstances that few of their civilian counterparts experience.
A more complicated truth is that, while serving in the military is hard, leaving can be even harder. Being in the armed forces can provide purpose, structure, friendships of unique depth, and a sense of fulfillment that comes with risking your life for something greater than yourself.
It is no surprise, then, that many veterans report feeling isolated and unmoored once they take off the uniform for the last time. They re-enter a society that is genuinely grateful for their service, but that does not (by and large) truly understand what that service entailed.
Veteran suicide is a serious problem in this country. In Florida, for example, veterans constitute 10 percent of the population, but nearly 20 percent of those who take their own life. The reasons for this phenomenon are complex, but one factor is the challenge that many warriors confront when making the transition from military to civilian life.
That’s why it is so vital that we, as a nation, go beyond simply thanking our veterans. It is also important that we make an effort to listen to veterans talk about their military experiences, whether these events were positive or painful, thrilling or traumatic.
Therefore, this Veterans Day, I am hosting a forum in my central Florida district where veterans of all generations will have the opportunity to tell their service stories to the public. The goal is to bridge the military-civilian divide, to educate and inform people about the trials and tribulations of military life, to (hopefully) provide a degree of emotional catharsis for veterans, and to create a sense of community, cohesion, and camaraderie — the very feelings that many veterans miss most about their time in the armed forces.
Veterans fought fiercely for this country and, to show our gratitude, this country should fight fiercely for them. We can do this in many ways, but we must begin by hearing what they have to say.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy represents Florida’s 7th congressional district and serves on the House Armed Services Committee. She is a co-chair of the Democratic Caucus’ National Security Task Force and served in a variety of roles at the Defense Department between 2004 and 2007.