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Honoring the Veterans in Your Family

Ways to celebrate the contributions made by real heroes

During the reunion, Dad told me about the day his Captain was killed. He related the time he just missed being killed by enemy fire when he jumped into a ditch and came face to face with a comrade—he never saw that guy again. He told me about what it was like to cross the river at night on a DUKW (pronounced "duck"; an amphibious landing vehicle) and feel, literally, like a sitting duck out there in the open. Dad is very humble and modest about his service in the war, as are the other guys he served with. Meeting them, hearing about their experiences, gave me a completely different view of my father and of what our veterans have given and sacrificed for our country. It was truly an honor beyond words to be in their presence and to get a more realistic view of them.

I am a proud member of the 10th Mountain Division's Descendant's group, made up of family members of these veterans. We feel so strongly about our fathers, grandfathers, and uncles that we want to keep the legacy alive. Some of the descendants' family's soldiers died in the war. For them it's a very special connection to the man they never knew. The descendant's group will take over the reunion planning and has initiatives to gather oral histories from the soldiers and support them and the current soldiers. We want to be sure these men and their accomplishments are not forgotten. We want to make certain that the current 10th Mountain Division–Light Infantry, serving in the mountains of Afghanistan, know their ties to the guys of the original 10th. What an outfit they were, and still are.

When my nephews said last week that they didn't know much about my father's service, I felt embarrassed that I hadn't made the effort to teach them about their grandpa's contributions. I hadn't made sure they'd seen the documentaries about the 10th or the videos I'd made of Dad, and the audio recordings of their great-grandfather. I know it's up to me and my sisters to make sure the next generation has that opportunity. The men and women who have served in the military—whether in World Wars I or II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, or Afghanistan—may not be the ones to initiate conversations about their experiences, so it's up to us to assist. So many of us have family members who are veterans. What do we really know about the part of their lives they spent in military service?  

My 11-year-old piano student, Katherine, showed me photo of her grandfather yesterday. He was in uniform in the photo and she proudly stated that her grandpa was a veteran of World War II. I reminded her that there was a special holiday coming up on Nov. 11 to honor all veterans. She replied, "I'll have to call up Grandpa and say thank you!"

What a good idea. I hope all of you will follow her example and remember to thank and honor the veterans in your family.

Tips for Honoring Veterans in Your Family:

Celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11. Originally Armistice Day, this was a day to celebrate and remember the end of WWI—November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m. In 1954, Congress changed the name to "Veterans Day" to honor the millions of veterans of all U.S. wars. Many communities hold parades and ceremonies, among other events. Take time to thank a veteran for his or her service. Listen to and tell the stories of your family’s veterans past and present to younger family members. They are probably interested but just don't think to ask.

Interview a veteran in your family. Record or write an oral history of your family member's military experiences. There are many books and online resources that provide interview questions, including the Veteran's History Project, which offers online forms and kits you can print.

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