By Glenn Proctor
Thanksgiving, our traditional day for family, friends, food and gratitude, felt better last year after we endured two prior years of the pandemic. This year, we’re back to normal and we seem busier than ever. Enjoy this Thanksgiving, one of the November days to celebrate.
For Marines and a few good sailors, November 10, is sacred, this year being the 248th birthday of our beloved Corps. Veterans’ Day, November 11 is when America honors those who served and the families and others who continue to support those out of uniform.
Remember, there are always active-duty members in harm’s way. Say a prayer. Special appreciation goes to the families and friends of those who lie at permanent attention.
For “Jarheads”, November 10 is our day of reflection, though most of us are proud to be Marines every day. It’s in our DNA. On that day, we get to sing our familiar hymn and think about our service, mine being 13 years, active duty and reserve. Too often, I reflect on the names I can recite from the Vietnam Memorial Wall and smile thinking about the “We Make Marines” sign hanging over the main gate at Parris Island. As a member of the Montford Point Marine Association, I am proud to pay homage to the 20,000 Black men who fought, through segregation and racism, to be become Marines from 1942 to 1949.
Celebrating veterans a couple days a year is not enough. No special treatment, just respect for those who did what most others wouldn’t do. A pledge to serve, knowing that the contract with America could result in serious injury or death. More than 41 million men and women have served. Now, about .7 percent of the population is on active duty. There are 16.2 million living U.S. veterans, including about two million Black veterans.
As usual, Veterans Day traditions – retail discounts, free meals and parades – will happen in many American communities. The familiar “Thank You for Your Service” will be heard all over. For Vietnam veterans, a simple, “Welcome Home!” is a long-awaited response.
Yet, many veterans get uplifting moments when talking with other vets. The era
doesn’t matter; rank or branch doesn’t matter. For Marines, a “Semper Fi” or “Ooh Rah!” is as good as it gets. Who knew “Jarhead” and “Devil Dog” were terms of endearment?
Unfortunately, as we celebrate another Veteran’s Day, some military brothers and sisters are suffering. Twenty-two suicides a day is often mentioned. One suicide, for any group, is one too many. Since 2010, more than 65,000 veterans have died by suicide, more than the number of combat deaths in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined. We must do more.
Why so many homeless veterans? The VA says veterans represent about 11 percent of U.S. homeless, with nine percent of that number being women. The majority of homeless veterans are single, 45 percent suffer from mental illness and 50 percent have substance abuse issues. About 48 percent of homeless veterans are Black or Hispanic. On any given night in America, there are more than 40,000 homeless veterans.
Paul, a Vietnam vet and Marine turned alcoholism counselor and blessings saved me. For more than two decades, alcohol was more important than family, work and health. Now, I get to help. So, I ask: “If the goal is to never leave a man or woman behind in conflict, why leave them behind at home? Veterans sacrificed so all Americans can celebrate this one and many more Novembers.”
Glenn Proctor – Marine gunnery sergeant and Vietnam veteran – is a 40-year journalist, retiring as vice president-news and executive editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He shared in Pulitzer Prize at the Akron Beacon Journal and is a five-time Pulitzer judge. A former military journalist, he was recently inducted into the Defense Information School Hall of Fame at Fort Meade, MD. An author, executive and life coach, he is a Mental Health First Aid and Suicide Prevention instructor and Grief Support Coach.