Monday marked Veterans Day, a holiday many Americans easily forgot. No grand fireworks shows or barbecues happen, and most Americans don’t get the day off from work. The only thing you might notice about Veterans Day is the absence of mail.
Who can blame us?
It’s likely at some point in our lives we’ve known someone — typically a friend or family member — who served in the Armed Forces, but for a large swath of the American population, Veterans Day is simply just another day.
Caring and respecting our veterans should be a top priority, regardless of whether a friend or relative served our country. As thousands of men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan come home, we are letting them down.
Following the Vietnam War, the American public treated veterans poorly as they returned home. Many Vietnam veterans became homeless, cast out by the citizens of the country they served.
More than 62,500 veterans are homeless on any given night, and it’s about time we stand up and do something for them.
Whether you agree with the reasoning for invading Iraq and Afghanistan, no one deserves our respect more than the people who served, fought, died or were seriously wounded as a result of the wars.
Many Americans — including some great charities — are doing their best to acclimate veterans back to civilian life, including assistance with education, job training and other basic needs. However, far too many of us remain silent on the issue and, even worse, others make a mockery of the brave men and women of the Armed Forces.
In a “tribute” to the troops, the Northwestern University football team wore special jerseys last weekend as part of the Wounded Warrior Project. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with Wounded Warrior and the great work they do, there was something very wrong with Northwestern’s uniforms: They were more or less American flags covered in fake blood.
You read that correctly. In a tribute to the wounded veterans, a football team wore uniforms that looked like an American flag covered in the blood of a soldier.
Northwestern might be the most egregious offender, but they are certainly not alone. Since 2008, Major League Baseball has adorned its players in caps featuring camouflage or the American flag to support the troops. Some NFL teams also joined the fun, with players wearing camouflage uniforms.
Wearing camouflage or spraying fake blood on your uniform doesn’t mean you support the troops and might be the most superficial way to “support the troops,” even if some proceeds of merchandise sales benefit organizations like Wounded Warriors.
We must do more than buy hats or watch our favorite team wear camo costumes to honor our veterans and the fallen. I know it’s easy to say and harder to do, but if we’re all flag-loving Americans, it’s due time to stand up and do something more than beat our chests with patriotic pride.
Donate a few bucks directly toward a group like Wounded Warriors, Welcome Back Veterans or even your local homeless shelter. Take a day off from work or school and volunteer at a shelter or help one of the country’s true heroes with the day-to-day struggles of returning to normal life.
There is so much we can do as a nation to help those who serve, and it’s the right thing to do — always.
These are men and women who sacrificed everything for us. Shouldn’t we do the same for them?
Joel Mendelson is a UF graduate student in political campaigning. His column usually runs on Mondays. A version of this column ran on page 7 on 11/13/2013 under the headline "Veterans deserve more respect"