Stories from the frontlines of war — and from the descendants of military families — are being told on this Veterans Day, as America honors those who’ve worn its uniforms and promised to protect it. The conversation also centers on how the U.S. can return the obligation, and serve its veterans.
President Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, praising the military and highlighting the story of Patrick Holbrook, a young veteran from Hawaii who had written to him to say, “Sir, all my life I’ve tried to find what a Good man is, and be that man but I [realize] now life is more difficult for some. I’m not sure where I am going, and it is something that I can not shake.”
Obama said, in both a written reply to Holbrook and at today’s ceremony: “I can tell from your letter you are already a good man; you just need to find the calling that will express that goodness — or it will find you.
Here’s a sampling of Veterans Day stories from NPR and its member stations. This list isn’t exhaustive — but it gives a sense of the breadth of the military community, and the wide range of experiences and challenges shared by veterans.
From St. Louis Public Radio comes the story of how a team of archivists are trying to recover millions of veterans’ records that were damaged in a 1973 fire. Years later, the documents remain vital: They can determine veterans’ benefits and burial rights. The center gets anywhere from 4,000 and 5,000 requests every day.
“They’re not just documents,” said technician Marie Taylor, 25, who was trying to restore a soldier’s file from World War II. “There was somebody who lived this out. I’m doing my best to preserve that. To remember that.”
From Arizona Public Media comes the account of a visit to Camp Bravo, a tent city that serves as a base for homeless veterans who need, as the station says, “shelter, nourishment and protection against the damages they bear from mental and physical injury, addiction, and isolation.”
Member station WABE in Atlanta describes how the city is closing in on the federal designation of having ended homelessness among veterans.
“According to the U.S. Department of Housing, about 360 veterans were in shelters or on Atlanta streets in January,” WABE reports, “nearly half what it was the year before.”
The wildly varying ways veterans who return from war are seen by civilians is at the heart of the Veterans Coming Home project that’s been explored at a local level by member station WHYY in Philadelphia.
“Civilians don’t even know how to approach veterans,” says Caroline Meehan, program and research manager of Volunteers of America. “There’s now sort of this view, this dichotomy in society: Are veterans just heroes? Or are they scary people with PTSD who are gonna explode?”
Members station WAMU in Washington tells us about a father and son who were both deployed to Afghanistan, years apart. Their conversation was recorded by StoryCorps Local.
“I never thought that you would end up fighting on the same battlefields that I was in,” Gary Berntsen, who went to Afghanistan after the 2001 attacks, tells his son Garrett.
First-person accounts make up Minnesota Public Radio’s project with LifePosts for Veterans. It includes the story of a journalist and photographer who worked in Afghanistan — and who realizes, “I’m too confused to know that I’m scared.”
Another voice comes from Vietnam vet Loren Hanson, whose tour as a finance clerk wasn’t as quiet as he expected: “After a short flight to Pleiku then on to An Khe, I processed through the replacement detachment and was assigned to Delta Company 1st Bn (Abn) 8th Cav, the “Jumping Mustangs”, an Airborne unit – risky stuff for a leg finance clerk.”
And from member station KMUW in Kansas comes this historic note: “The idea for Veteran’s Day began through the efforts of Emporia shoe repairman Alvin King.”
After King’s nephew was killed serving in the Army in Germany during World War II, King pushed to expand Armistice Day — which was dedicated to World War I veterans — to cover all U.S. military veterans.
Rep. Ed Rees of Emporia “agreed to take King’s idea to Washington, D.C.,” KMUW reports. “The legislation passed, and President Dwight Eisenhower–a native Kansan — signed the bill establishing the nation’s first Veterans Day on Nov. 11, 1954.”