Veterans Day

I’M EMBARRASSED TO SAY I’ve never given Veterans Day much thought. Aside from my stepfather, who never talked about it, I don’t know anyone who served, and my only military recollections were the deaths in Vietnam reported on the nightly news and the teeny parade in my hometown of Craftsbury, Vt., where  each year our WWII vets scuffled (albeit proudly) along the single paved road in town. (I was miserably attached to a bass drum in the school band, and more occupied with trying to look cool in front of the snare drummers. )

In fact, the only time I’ve thought about veterans was on a trip to Sicily a few years ago. I spent the afternoon in a Palermo bar with a couple of photographer friends and a couple of the local elders who befriended us, despite our near-lack of the language. (Such instant kinship is one of my favorite things about Italy, as is the penchant for old men here to talk to just about anyone.)

They were interested in our fancy digital cameras, which took up half the space on the rickety table.  And after showing them a few images on the back of the LCD, they each took out their wallets and showed us their pictures.

One man, a widow, carried a picture of his wife as a young, dark-haired beauty. The others all had pictures of themselves as young soldiers in WWII.  Some 60 years later, this identification—pride and honor—was still strong for these men. When others in the bar saw the photos, they clapped the old men on the back and sent over a couple of rounds of beers.

I thought about that odd afternoon as I spent the last week interviewing veterans for a story about hunger issues. I was shocked to find from a Food Bank For New York City  survey that nearly 30 percent of veteran households in the NYC area are worried about food. I spoke with a number of vets who say they can’t figure out how they got to this place. No one I spoke with was looking for a handout, but all of them felt like the hand of government hadn’t extended far enough. You can read more here.

No one should be hungry. Period. But it’s hard to swallow the idea that men and women who put their lives on the line are now standing in a bread line. They don’t have a community of folks buying them a beer in recognition and thanks.

Today, thank a vet, and ask them how they’re really doing.

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