Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Harriette Reflects on the Importance of Veterans Day

DEAR READERS: Today is Veterans Day, a day worthy of pause and reflection. Throughout our country's history, men and women have stood up and accepted the call to serve our country and protect our borders and people. Many of our families are touched in one way or another by the armed services.

I am a big believer in contemplating the reason for a holiday so that you can consciously honor it. In the case of Veterans Day, even if you feel angst about the reasons for war, chances are you also feel gratitude and empathy for those who put their lives at risk.

A practice that I recommend to celebrate veterans is for each of us to think of someone in our own lives who is or was a veteran. Remember that person's story and share it with others.

When I think of veterans, I first think of my father and my uncle. My father, the Honorable Harry A. Cole, was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army in World War II. He didn't even speak at his Morgan State college graduation, where he was valedictorian, because he had already enlisted in the Army and had been shipped overseas. He and my mother's brother, Wendell G. Freeland, a Tuskegee Airman, used to swap stories about their time in the armed services. On the one hand, they enjoyed the freedom of traveling globally and being admired by people in foreign lands. Unfortunately, they also experienced the insidious power of racism, even within their own leadership, as World War II occurred during segregation. The good news is they prevailed.

Today, at 88 years old, Uncle Wendell continues to share memories of his years as a Tuskegee Airman. And in his Pittsburgh community, organizations have been showering him with honors for his life's work, which started when he was drafted during World War II. After the war, he became a civil rights attorney determined to help those in need of a champion. Like him, thousands of veterans across the country continue to share their stories of triumph and despair.

On this powerful day that is brimming with stories from those who have lived through all manner of challenge, take the time to reflect and reach out to veterans you know and those you don't know to say thank you. Visit a veterans' hospital and listen to the people there share their memories. Be patient if you end up hearing painful sagas of loss or sadness. Remember that these people have gone through so much.

In recent wars, injuries have often been to the brain. Thousands of people are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. By listening, you can be of tremendous support to a veteran.

Finally, if you are aware of families in your community who have lost family members due to war or who have loved ones overseas now, reach out to them and let them know that they are not alone and that we appreciate the tremendous sacrifice they are making on behalf of our country. For any veterans in need of support, visit mirecc.va.gov/coaching/index.asp.