Have you hugged a veteran today?


No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.

~Calvin Coolidge

Today, on Veterans Day, we pause to remember and honor those who have put their lives on the line to keep our country safe.

There are a lot of people to keep in mind: The Veterans Administration estimates there are 23 million living veterans in the United States.

Veterans Day is a tradition begun in 1919, to honor the official cease fire that ended "The Great War." This cessation of hostilities between Allied forces and Germany "went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of ‘the war to end all wars,'" according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

At that time, President Woodrow Wilson said November 11, or Armistice Day, henceforth would be "filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations "

As World War I was not actually the war to end all wars, the armed forces of the United States have fought and died on many international battlefields since. Today we recognize those men and women who have served our country in war and in peace.

The Bennington community regularly honors veterans, be it as part of festive parades to celebrate holidays including Battle Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day (today's parade kicks off at 11 a.m. at the former middle school on Main Street and proceeding to the Vermont Veterans Home) or via events celebrated in area schools or at the Veterans Home. This year, on April 7, the local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter held a procession commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

Going forward from this day celebrating those who have served our country, we need to ask ourselves how we can help today's veterans. Modern warfare wreaks different sorts of hell and havoc on our servicemen and servicewoman returning from combat in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Because of the nature of combat in the Middle East, veterans are coming home to the U.S. with extreme injuries that may require lifelong care. There are more veterans with very serious medical needs now than at perhaps any time in our nation's history.

Originally, Veterans Day was intended to be observed with parades, public ceremonies and the proud display of the American flag. Today we have a duty to our veterans every day, not just Veterans Day, that includes physical and emotional support as well as health care for the wounded.

How can you help?

Adapted from CNN.com, here are some ideas to do something for a veteran:

1) Write a letter

Many organizations, including California-based Operation Gratitude, sponsor letter writing campaigns for veterans.

Send as many letters (or copies with original signature) as you would like by regular mail only to:

Thank a Veteran

c/o Penny Alfonso

1970 Rangeview Drive

Glendale, CA 91201

2) Volunteer at a VA hospital or veterans home

Taking a couple hours every week or month to volunteer can have an impact on your life and a veteran's life.

3) Donate simple things

Donating small items such as magazines, coffee, cookies, clothing, and telephone cards can help make a difference in a lonely life.

4) Help the homeless

According to VA, more than a fifth of the adult homeless population has served their country. The VA has founded a National Call Center for Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, that provides free, 24/7 access to trained counselors. Call 1-877-4AID VET (1-877-424-3838).

The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars also have homeless programs to assist veterans and several charities are dedicated to helping wounded service members and their families.

5) Say thank you

This may be the simplest and maybe the most effective way to make an immediate impact for a veteran. Many veterans may feel disenfranchised and forgotten by a nation. If you see a veteran or know of one, take a moment to say thank you.

"Thank you for your service," is a simple statement that can go a long way.

To all those who have served and who continue to serve, thank you for putting yourself between the rest of us and danger.

~Michelle Karas


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