Progressives Acknowledge Veterans Day
(photo) Donna Smith’s dad, Veteran Howard Boyles (left of his sister) and his siblings in 1945 as they are returning from service WWII
By Donna Smith, PDA Advisory Board Chair
Every year on November 11th, I recognize Veterans Day with grateful memories of all the veterans in my life. I reflect on their sacrifice and their honorable gift to me that I must never forget. And I also think about what each of those veterans hoped and risked their lives to ensure.
My heritage includes soldiers from every military conflict this nation has faced since the Revolutionary War. While I do not know exactly what those long ago military members thought and believed, I do know based on the men and women in my family who have served from the First World War to present day soldiers that none of these brave people wanted war. None of them. My great grandparent who served in World War I, my father and my father-in-law who served during World War II, my uncles who served in those trenches and later in Korea, and all the cousins who were service members in Vietnam. In the present day, my son and sons-in-law all are Veterans. One son-in-law lost his twin brother in a non-combat role in the open seas of the Pacific. And the one overwhelming message all of these honorable people shared was a love of peace, a love of country and a deep belief in their duty to serve in some capacity that bettered the chances that all people have to live free.
On this day and every day, this Veterans Day, I think of what they gave me. I think of what they gave up for all of us. Some lost limbs. Some lost the time and space to pursue more typical early adulthood pursuits. Some lost peace of mind as horrifying images and experiences crowded out sleep and serenity. Some lost the respect of the very people they sought to serve and protect. Not one of these military people supported war or killing people. The veterans I have known were nearly all progressive thinkers and they held beliefs just as wide open and thoughtful as I could ever imagine.
From a place of deep experience and total engagement, the military service members in my life have been and continue to be involved in this nation’s democracy at levels we non-veterans might aspire to. Every living veteran I know votes. Every one. Those veterans also know the issues and candidates deeply. They can discuss and sometimes argue positions in their own communities and states in powerful and clear ways, and these veterans certainly understand what’s at stake in protecting our right to vote and our right to fully participate in our own self governance. It could be argued that these Americans hold an appreciation of our duty to be involved citizens that we might need to understand and appreciate more fully. After all, they gave so much more than many of us will ever truly understand.
It does not ever bother me when President Biden closes his remarks with, “God bless our troops.” Not only is it a personal thing for him, it ought to be a collective pause for us all to consider the gift of service and the gift of risking life and limb being made by so many of our peers. Lest we forget, perhaps today is a day for us all to thank a Vet. Whether they are in our own political space or not, we owe so much to each of them.
Being a patriotic American does not exclude we progressives or those who love peace. Being patriotic is something our veterans know and model in all of our movements for justice. I personally know veterans — many, many veterans — support and are in the fight for Medicare for all. In our PDA chapter here in Denver, we are lucky to have several veterans adding their voices, their efforts and their time to the pursuit of equality. It must be frustrating to be painted with a broad brush of ignorance that labels these brave people as warmongers. So many people seem to think being a veteran means you cannot possibly be progressive.
This Veterans Day, I choose to remember my late father, Howard Boyles, who served in WWII. My dad was deeply patriotic and deeply committed to finding a way to have a more peaceful world. This Veterans Day, I choose to honor my son, Bradley Joseph, who has served all over the world and right here in the United States after Katrina battered New Orleans. This Veterans Day, I choose to think about what it must feel like to serve as they did, I will reflect on my own bias that being a soldier somehow means being something other than progressive. That bias has been disproved so many times and by so many people.
No matter our political views or our positions or our favorite candidates, it would do us all good to pause today (and maybe a little every day) to reflect on what veterans know and what they have lived. For each of us. No matter if we fully understand, veterans have earned our individual reflection of the rights and responsibilities of living in a world that still struggles for equality and justice. Thank you, veterans.