The American Heritage Dictionary defines the verb to honor as "to hold in respect or esteem."
Honoring America’s veterans is an active privilege that comes along with our very freedom. Not only is it a privilege, but also a responsibility. This responsibility is to be shared by the young and the old, rich and poor, and especially, by the free and the brave.
A great example in honoring veterans has been set for me by my grandfather. A Vietnam veteran himself, he never passes up an opportunity to show his pride in our country and the people who have defended her freedom. My family calls him "Poppy" because he is a vigilant participant in the VFW poppy sale. Not only is he a participant in the poppy sale, but he also makes sure to place flags on veterans’ graves for Memorial Day and to support heeling fields. Poppy’s car is an American flag on wheels, sporting at least two flags on each side as well as a magnet for POW/MIA support, and two yellow "pray for our troops" ribbons.
The "patriot-mobile," as I have affectionately christened it, is quite a loud display of patriotic pride. It isn’t, however, driving the patriot-mobile that impresses me most about my Poppy. The one thing that amazes me beyond anything else is that he always has the time to shake the hands of other veterans and thank them for their service. He selflessly left high school when our country needed men overseas and didn’t graduate for many years after returning, but he doesn’t ask for any specific recognition. Instead, he holds others who have defended liberty in higher regard than he holds himself, a true servant of his country.
People like my Poppy are the ones who deserve the honor reserved for veterans. A fearless defender of freedom from a time gone by should not go unnoticed today. Too often as Americans, we get caught up in our fast-paced society, oblivious to the true reason why we can live without fear in this country. Too often, we take our Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day holidays as a chance to go on a picnic with our families, to shop, or the first opportunity to start on enjoying the summer weather at the beach, forgetting that there is a reason behind the break from our chaotic lives.
Do we actually stop and remember our veterans? Is America as a whole becoming ungrateful for our freedoms? The Memorial Day parade in my community used to draw many supporters as I am told, but now, only a few faithful returnees, a dwindling band, and our local VFW and American Legion posts sustain the tradition. What has happened?
My role in honoring America’s veterans is to inspire in my generation the kind of patriotic fervor my Poppy has instilled in me. I have set my watch to military time to remind me to be thankful for the service of our veterans and to pray for our troops. Each time I march in our Memorial Day parade, I show respect and support for America’s veterans. Every poppy I have helped to sell shows a small token of my patriotic esteem. Every cookie or loaf of banana bread I send to my friends in the service shows my support for America’s troops, our future veterans. When I make a trip to Washington D.C., I always stop at the servicemen’s memorials, but, rather than rushing past them or carrying on a conversation with those around me, I read the names, thank God for my freedom, and spend time reflecting on the sacrifice of our veterans, both living and deceased. It is our veterans who have ensured our freedoms and our personal liberties; honor is the least we can give back to them.
I encourage you now to join me in honoring America’s veterans. One person alone cannot be near thankful enough for a whole country’s freedom. Together, however, we can show America’s veterans our gratitude and begin an epidemic of honor and support for the men and women who have given us perhaps the greatest gift of all.
(This speech by Foster came in first place in the district in the "Voice of Democracy" speech contest.)