I consider it appropriate on the occasion of Veterans Day 2016 to address a social trend that appears to be occurring with somewhat increasing frequency.
A few months ago, I noticed a photo of a professional athlete refusing to stand in honor of the American flag and our national anthem. In the photo, the individual was on one of his knees with a facial expression that I can only describe as “arrogant.”
This act of protest and others like it are protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The fact remains, the individual in the photo and others like him can dishonor our national anthem, stand on the American flag, spit on it and destroy it. However, nothing they can do diminishes the uncommon honor, integrity, moral and physical courage in which our remarkable military veterans served our nation. Thank God for their service — if not them, then who?
Our military veterans are extraordinary men and women who sacrificed some of the best years of their lives for your freedom — a freedom that allows for the disrespect of the values they hold so dear. In this regard, I recently asked our University of Southern Mississippi student-veterans the question, “Why did you serve?” Their answers may surprise you, but it caused my heart to swell with pride.
Here is a sampling of what they had to say:
▪ “We did it for each other.”
▪ “It is all about service … not personal gain or profit.”
▪ “We cherish membership as a band of brothers and sisters.”
▪ “We believe in our nation and its values.”
▪ “We preferred team over individuality.”
▪ “We recognized there exists something greater in life besides ourselves.”
▪ “We care about our country and wanted to make a difference.”
It is impossible to know the intentions behind every individual’s military service. Many who served did not volunteer to do so. They were drafted. However, how can we express our gratitude to military veterans for their loyal service?
Here’s how: By making this country and its respective values something worth dying for by placing our utmost loyalty to the nation ahead of individual politics, race, creed and self-interests. Each of us can accomplish this by demonstrating the moral courage to stand up for what is right rather than being silent as our nation’s values are manipulated and redefined.
As long as we get on the playing field to express integrity and honor rather than standing on the sideline or sitting in the stands, we are honoring our military veterans.
All military veterans gave some, but some gave all. Let us not commit the injustice of taking their sacrifices and love of nation for granted. Instead, let’s treat each other and our nation with dignity and respect.
On this Veterans Day, we respectfully request that you make a difference through a financial donation to the USM Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families that will be used for the Textbooks for Troops program and will help provide quality service to our military students. I assure you any donation will be applied to supporting our honorable student-veterans as they transition back into civilian life in the pursuit of a professional career.
Please consider making a tax-deductible financial gift to the USM Foundation online by visiting usmfoundation.com/veterans or mailing direct to our Veterans Center at USM Box 5171.
For questions about the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families, contact me at 601-264-4629 or visit usm.edu/military-veterans.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond serves as the director of USM’s Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families.