University Park, IL,
17:28 PM

How to Thank a Veteran

It started in 1919 as Armistice Day, a commemoration of the signing of the agreement between Allied forces and Germany that had put an end to the fighting in World War I just one year prior. And what a cause to celebratethe world had never seen a war like that before. In total, the first great war of the 20th century claimed nearly 9 million lives and wounded more than 21 million people worldwide. It ushered in the age of chemical warfare and automatic weapons; the otherworldly image of soldier as stormtrooper, masked and carrying a submachine gun, was born from that strife. The war wouldn't formally end until the next year's Treaty of Versailles, but on November 11, 1918, the world laid its weapons down. 

In 1926, Congress declared it an annual observance, and in 1938, November 11 became a national holiday. We celebrate it now with ceremonies and flags. Restaurants offer free meals to members of the military, active or retired, and some school children get the day off.

In a time of an exclusively volunteer military, when the shape of war is changing with technology—but the risk and sacrifice are identical to those faced in World War I's trenches—the need for real dialogue about veterans' experiences demands action. We thank our veterans for their service, but how do we show them our gratitude?

According to Kevin Smith, Director of Veterans Affairs at the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) at Governors State University, we can best thank our soldiers with advocacy.

"There's a groundswell," Smith said, "toward this idea of 'no soldier left behind' in veterans' circles now. It's the idea that whatever needs exist, it's on all of us to help meet them. There's a real calling to help current and future veterans. At GSU, we've adopted that philosophy, so when a veteran comes to the university, their financial and educational needs are being met where they can be met."

The VRC at GSU is the traditional sanctuary and hub for student-veterans at the university, offering not only camaraderie but connections to critical services and development programs. There's been a move this year, too, to bring veterans' experiences into the classroom through academic classes and grant work.

"It's a complicated thing. There's not a veteran out there who wants to ask for help. In some ways, I think it's bred into us [in the military] in order to get things done," Smith, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, shared. "It's important to know that veterans need to be supported."