By Denton Knapp, Brigadier General, CA State Guard and Director of the Tierney Center for Veteran Services
As a country, we celebrate Veterans Day every November 11 to honor those who courageously served in our Armed Forces. We honor our combat veterans still living from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Inherent Resolve.
Today, more than 19 million US military veterans live in the US, and nearly 2 million of those veterans call California home.
Do you see them, know them and honor them?
Some may be readily visible by their American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars service baseball caps. Others may have a USS Enterprise jacket or a t-shirt with a 3rd Infantry Division logo.
Sometimes you’ll notice their particular haircut, the way they talk or their specific demeanor.
But the truth is, most of the veterans out there today are invisible.
Invisible because they have been here, living and working next to you for the past 10 years, sitting next to you in your college class, teaching your children at high school, and we never even knew they were veterans.
Why? Because we didn’t ask.
Most veterans will not self-identify. Military service is a humble profession. This profession of arms does not boast.
Most veterans leave the service and try to blend into society as much as possible. We change clothes, grow our hair, lose the jargon, find a house, a job and join the other 93% of civilian Americans.
I challenge each of us this Veterans Day to ask your neighbors, your colleagues, your classmates on Zoom, “Did you serve?” If yes, “In what service? What years did you serve, and what did you do?”
Then ask, “Do you have family?”
You’ll be surprised who you discover is a veteran. Some may have been right next to you for years.
When you identify a veteran, most people find it customary to say, “Thank you for your service”. Rather than just saying thank you, I further challenge each of us to demonstrate our thankfulness.
Ask what they need. Most veterans will tell you they need nothing. So ask again. In many cases, their needs will be obvious – they need basic necessities such as food, affordable shelter, car repairs or hygiene kits. Some may be unemployed or underemployed in Orange County.
Ask them to share more about their time in the service. I’d give anything to have my grandfather back on this earth to ask about his World War II service. I never did. Those memories departed this world with him as he passed.
In this modern day, it is both surprising and heartbreaking that we still have veterans without homes, without employment or underemployed, and unable to receive timely and adequate healthcare and other benefits. Many veterans have not applied to VA or do not qualify.
If we really want to honor our veterans, volunteer to serve them. Join the organizations that provide services to those who served all of us so honorably. Give financially if you can, and give your time.
Celebrate the few who have sacrificed so much to defend our Republic and guarantee our freedoms.
Honor their selfless commitment to our nation, where they faced death on the battlefield and continue to battle the struggles of adjusting to society back home. Many fight mental health issues and suicide.
So this Veterans Day, I challenge you to ask the simple question, “Did you serve?” And follow that question with more questions, more conversations, and more compassion for our deserving veterans.
Knapp served more than 30 years in the U.S. Army. He continues to serve as a Brigadier General for the California State Guard as the Deputy Commander, 40th Infantry Division, California Army National Guard.