Remembering Our Troops This Holiday Season

U.S. soldiers pray at a Veterans Day ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2008. (CNS photo/Omar Sobhani, Reuters)
U.S. soldiers pray at a Veterans Day ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2008. (CNS photo/Omar Sobhani, Reuters)
November is the month of remembrance. We try to reflect on those things that we are blessed with. We give thanks for our family, our friends, our health and home, and everything else that is meaningful to us. On Veterans Day, we remember our troops — those people who risked and are currently risking their lives to keep us safe.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the celebration of an important November anniversary — the Marine Corps’ 239th birthday on November 10. During the celebrations, there are certain formalities that are observed: a special cake-cutting ceremony and the reading of Marine Corps Order 47, which called for the formal commemoration of the day in 1921. Other than these traditional rituals, different groups of Marines add their own forms of celebration, such as a unit run or a pageant of uniforms. At this particular celebration, there was a Missing Man Table or Fallen Comrade Table to honor the prisoners of war and those fallen in combat. Every item on it has significance, and the wide array of symbolism actually surprised me. The table’s shape, the color of the cloth, the ribbons present — everything has a special meaning, specified to remembering the lost soldiers.

The guest speaker was Captain Gregory Lobato, a veteran from the most recent Iraq War. He talked about his time in service, and what he was doing afterward. When he returned to civilian life, he went back to school and got his master’s degree. What struck me, though, was the next part of his story. Though he had a slew of qualifications, no one wanted to hire him. He finally tried to get into his local police force, in order to serve and protect his community. He passed every test, had plenty of experience, but…the village’s Board of Trustees voted to hire someone less-qualified instead, claiming that Captain Lobato was too “military.”

I don’t understand this sudden fear of our veterans. These brave men and women are out in combat zones or participating in other missions around the world, away from their families and friends. If these were the years following World War II, this would be unheard of. Back then, veterans were considered heroes. Now, though, they’re constantly accused of being unstable and dangerous. What people fail to realize is, yes, they’ve seen horrors, yes, they’re probably more than physically scarred…but it’s no different. Those heroes that returned to us in the past have given way to the heroes returning to us now. They’re people, just like you and me.

Many of the veterans that return today are perfectly capable of returning to a civilian lifestyle. They can hold jobs, return to school — in fact, there are currently two recently returned veterans in my night class this semester. Though most veterans can resume normal lives, there are some who return with serious mental health issues. It doesn’t make them “monsters.” Many people would respond similarly if thrust into a war zone. Ultimately, what all veterans need is our respect and support. Yes, there’s no heroes’ welcome like in World War II, but then again — there’s no great victory now. Still, these are people who fought and risked so much for us, and we need to remember that and show them our appreciation.

The day following the Marine Corps party, I went to Mass at a different church than usual. The service was very nice, but I noticed, in the dedications, they failed to include prayers for our troops. In my parish, every week there is a mention of the brave troops selflessly risking their lives. So, this neglect surprised me. I know there are no stipulations about what and what not to include in the prayer of dedication, but I feel that — especially with the current conflicts, like fighting again ISIS and ISIL in Syria and Iraq, and especially in this time that’s supposed to be dedicated to remembrance and gratitude — the soldiers should always be on our minds.

With the November themes of remembrance and gratitude, and with the upcoming holiday season in mind, you might want to take the time to show your support for the troops. It could be as simple as remembering to say a prayer for our troops, or backing them up when someone’s talking negatively. If you want to do more, though, you can participate in a cause, such as Operation Gratitude — through which you can send a care package to a specific group, or even a specific soldier. A Million Thanks lets you send a letter to a random soldier, thanking him or her, and giving your support. For other ways to help out, check out this list, or do something on your own. Above all, remember the great gift our men and women in uniform give to their country — and to each one of us — and say thank you.