Veterans deserve the recognition for their service

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By LISA SMITH MOLINARI/meatandpotatoes.com

Of all places, I was in the veterinarian’s office with our dog, Moby, when I started feeling differently about veterans. It wasn’t the smell of disinfectant, the hiss of the cat Moby was sniffing, or the yapping of a dog in the treatment room that got my wheels spinning.

It was the sight of my shiny, brand new Department of Defense identification card. I was digging it out of my wallet to take advantage of the vet’s 15 percent military discount, when I remembered that it was Nov. 1, my husband’s first day as a separated military retiree after 28 years of service.

“Oh, sorry, I forgot,” I said sheepishly to the office assistant, “my husband just retired from active duty.”

“It’s OK, your husband’s a veteran, right? You’re still good,” he said, scribbling a lower total on my invoice.

I paid the bill, tugged Moby’s leash and rushed to our minivan. My wheels pealed out of the parking lot, and as I careened down Route 138, I felt like I’d just gotten away with something.

I took another look at my new ID card. It clearly indicated that I was now merely a dependent of a sponsor who is “USN/RET.” All the retirement paperwork undoubtedly stated that we were officially civilians now. Although I knew Francis was a veteran, we didn’t feel entitled to special treatment anymore.

Moby’s hot breath further dampened the minivan’s dank atmosphere. Approaching a red light, I cracked a window, and glanced over at the driver in the Honda Pilot coasting to a stop beside me. She was wearing huge sunglasses, was holding a fancy water bottle and had a dolphin-shaped air freshener dangling from her rear view mirror.

I saw stick figure decals on her back window, indicting that she had a husband, two kids, and a cat, all wearing Mickey Mouse ears. And a bumper sticker that read, “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington.”

In a melancholy state, I declared, “I guess that’s who I am now, just another average civilian.”

On the opposite corner, a bank marquis’ glowed 10:32 a.m., 61 degrees, and “Honor All U.S. Veterans.”

I remembered Veterans Day 2015, when Francis, then active duty, was invited to speak at a gathering in front of city hall. I was so proud of my uniformed husband as he spoke of the sacrifices of all the veterans who had come to commemorate that special day. We lingered after his speech, and listened to the stories told by vets who had braved Vietnam, World War II and the Korean War. It was such an incredible honor to be with such heroes—they were the real McCoys—true military veterans.

But the sign said, “Honor All U.S. Veterans.” I wondered, are all veterans deserving of honor?

I’d heard the statistics. Less than 1 percent half of 1 percent of the U.S. population volunteers for military service today—the lowest rate since World War II. And of those select few, roughly 80 percent come from a family in which a parent or sibling served. Our recent wars have been authorized by a U.S. Congress with the lowest rate of military service in history, and the last three commanders in chief never served on active duty. Moreover, due to the military-civilian divide, today’s military community is increasingly separated from the public it protects.

I realized that those few who volunteer to serve their country deserve recognition.

A car horn blast from behind prompted me to quit daydreaming, because the light had turned green.

Later that day, I was back in the minivan, this time with my husband Francis in the driver’s seat. We were inching our way up to the guard shack at Gate 1, so we could drive onto the Navy base to run some errands. Like I had done earlier that day, Francis pulled out his shiny new ID card, looked at it uncomfortably and handed it to the gate guard.

Much to our surprise, the guard saluted and said, “Good afternoon, captain.”

“Wow,” Francis said as we drove away, “I didn’t realize they still did that after you retire.”

“You’re a veteran, honey,” I reminded him. “You’ve earned it.”