I’ve spoken with a number of veterans over the years. They span generations, wars, and now that the future is here…centuries. It is always a privilege and an honor.

There are different types of war veterans. Some speak of their experiences as casually as the rest of us might discuss a book we became immersed in as we read it.
They lived it, it is now a part of their lives, memories flowing across the landscape of their minds like a familiar river.

Others discuss the wars they lived rarely and with some reluctance. Their experience was filled with rage and compassion, fear and heroics, honor and courage and questions for which they will never find answers…even across a lifetime of pondering. They speak of it when they do because they want others to know their living history, to pass it on, and perhaps be a small part of the reason war may never come again.

Another group of veterans do not speak of what they went through. Ever. They acknowledge that they fought in battles. They may say where and when. They may not. Some were prisoners of war, and underwent horrors they find unspeakable. Others simply saw so much death and carnage that they have no desire to relive it through articulating what it was like.  Someone who sees their friends killed in front of them, perhaps in situations they missed themselves by minutes called luck or fate or faith, need to keep that knowledge to themselves. I respect that.

The ones I respect most of all spent at least one moment locked in life or death combat, close enough to look into the face of the enemy and for a fleeting moment recognize someone’s husband, father, child. Because of their training, their courage, their desire to protect their comrades, their families back home, and that very homeland itself they take that life. One or many. They operate out of instinct and patriotism and honor and courage and love…and they live with the knowledge of the urgent necessity that forced them to go against their own natures to do the unthinkable.

Some veterans who carry that experience with them for decades do not speak of it. It speaks for them through service records, citations of heroism, and the words of awed comrades. For some their names become legend, while their lives are spent in mostly silent contemplation. They receive their honors and titles and medals with a dignity that shines from their inward turned gazes. Some may tell a trusted cherished few, while others live a life of silent, persistent  memory, and I hope pride in what they did for the rest of us.

It’s the silent soldiers I think of most deeply on Veterans Day and many others. I hope they find solace in knowing how much we honor them and love them, as we remember their service and their sacrifice.