The following was penned by Jan Peters, a veteran of the US Army who served in Desert Storm. She is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Trocaire and delivered these remarks at a Veterans Day and flag folding ceremony held on campus on Nov. 10, 2017.
Happy Veteran’s Day Everyone! I hope you won’t mind me sharing with you my thoughts about honoring our veterans and the sacrifices they made and suggesting a call to action.
We’ve recently been hearing via the media from individuals who have been equating peaceful protest during the national anthem at sporting events with the protesters’ blatant disrespect for veterans, the flag and the national anthem itself. Their expressed rage toward the protesters caused me to reflect and to wonder why in the world would athletes want to disrespect us vets? I quickly came to realize that this threatening response to the protesters is meant to distract us from examining the real reasons behind the protest, whether we choose to validate their reasons or not. I see it as a divisive means to manipulate the public and to shame and intimidate the protesters so as to silence their cry for justice. Associating the flag and our national anthem with veterans alone seems to imply that these symbols do not represent the rights and values and laws established by our forefathers to protect every American.
Our flag and our national anthem exemplify a set of aggregate beliefs, ideas, and moral attitudes, and were designed to operate as a unifying force for all who have the good fortune of benefiting from a life here in the United States.
Our flag and anthem stand for liberty and justice for all of us, regardless of what country or race you originated from, whether or not you served in or protested a war, or demonstrated your agreement or dissension with the privileges you’ve benefited from or the oppression you have been subjected to in your daily life.
I found that while performing our military missions, my intentions, and those of the fellow veterans I served with, were connected to the welfare of our loved ones, and our purpose was centered on protecting the best interests of our fellow Americans back home, regardless of the political climate within our country or the reasons given to justify our deployment into battle. We were also always focused on protecting each other from harm. Had we not, we would have had no chance at success. Very few of us came from privileged backgrounds, and collectively we were as diverse as any population you can imagine, all living and working together under extremely challenging conditions.
As a US soldier and commissioned officer, I took a vow to defend the principles of the Constitution which, in my mind, stand squarely behind the symbolism of our flag and national anthem. In doing so, I always hoped I was part of a force helping to perpetuate each person’s individual rights in this land to live peacefully without fear, pursue happiness, be respected, and to receive fair and equal treatment–regardless of race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, social standing, political or apolitical views or religious or secular perspectives.
As you look today upon our beautiful flag silhouetted against a peaceful sky, remind yourself that it stands collectively for what and who we all are and for what opportunities we each deserve to receive in this nation.
Let’s honor all those who served, sacrificed and died for this country by protecting our Constitution and Bill of Rights right here at home, and by expressing our freedom to demand improvement in the quality and equity of social justice, and in particular among those of us most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
As a United States of America, we must embrace the strength of our diversity and never succumb to tyranny, neither from external forces nor through any means of internal divisiveness. The variety of our perspectives and our freedom to express them is what sets us apart from other nations. That freedom of expression is what our veterans fought to achieve on Independence Day and in every conflict since–it is what we as an institution of higher learning continue to embrace today, and it is what I trust we are all still obligated to protect.
That is– to me–what honoring the sacrifice of our veterans is all about.