Forget the Fireworks

My husband is an overall quiet guy, not one to volunteer his opinion unless he feels really strongly about something. That’s why when he’s passionate about something, I listen.

Over the past few months, we have seen a handful of sad-eyed men carrying wrinkled, worn, equally-sad signs that look like this:


We’ve seen signs that read “Will work for food,” “Anything helps,” and “Wounded Vet—Can’t work” on street corners, sidewalks, under bridges, and outside shopping malls. We’ve seen barely-legal boys, middle-aged men, and crinkly-eyed seniors with these signs, and we’ve seen men and women from every demographic walk right by, without so much as a “what a shame” look and pitying click of the tongue.

Every time we walk or drive by a homeless veteran, my husband’s disquiet grows. He went from shaking his head, to a comment here and there, to full-blown dinner discussions. We have talked and talked about how the words “homeless” and “veteran” should never sit in the same sentence—and how each and every safe, happy, healthy American is indebted to these men that we’ve left alone on the roadside.

With the exception of the “bad guys” (because I’m sure there are less-than-worthy veterans) veterans should never be homeless.

Signing up to live or die defending our country, anywhere in the world, leaving your family, friends, and home behind, warrants more than our respect. It warrants a society that thanks our veterans with more than clapping in the airport. It warrants a society that provides healthcare—both physical and mental—for every veteran who has defended our country.

As you celebrate your Fourth of July, consider doing more than walking by that homeless veteran with your head down. Consider bringing him or her a hot meal and some cold, fresh water. Consider visiting a site like the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans to see how you can help.

I’ll most likely spend most of the weekend with a hard cider in my hand and sunglasses on my face, but I know that if I have the opportunity, I’ll thank a veteran for making our cookouts, fireworks, boat rides, and family traditions possible. I know the Fourth of July isn’t a designated time to “thank a Vet,” but we wouldn’t have an excuse to celebrate if it weren’t for their choice to serve.

On the Fourth of July, fireworks may be a way to celebrate our independence, but it doesn’t do much to thank the individuals who fight for and safeguard our independence.