By Ashley Lodato

Last Saturday was Veterans Day and, as is fitting, many Americans spent at least a moment or two thanking veterans for their service, attending recognition ceremonies, or creating social media posts that acknowledged the veterans in their lives.

Around Veterans Day I always think of my father (hi, Dad!), flying missions in Vietnam with a pregnant wife and toddler (me) living in a Bangkok hotel, wondering each time if he’d return. I think of my grandfather shipping off to Europe in the fall of 1941, to spend what would eventually be nearly three years in northern Africa, Italy and southern France. I think of other friends and family members who have dedicated their lives, or portions of them, to military service.

But this year I decided to think beyond the veterans themselves and focus on what they were actually fighting for, and how we can honor their efforts through action. Because all the time we spend saluting veterans and posting pictures of relatives in uniform is essentially meaningless if we don’t take the next step toward honoring the sacrifices they made by promoting and supporting American ideals.

I’m not talking about big broad concepts like freedom, although freedom is obviously at the core of America’s founding philosophy. But with freedom comes responsibility — chiefly, the responsibility to defend the many components that contribute toward preserving the American way of life.

I’m talking about things as basic as the responsibility to buy products made in the USA — products whose creation contributes to employment for American workers and the survival of American communities. And the responsibility to respect freedom of religion and to not alienate one’s fellow American on the basis of creed. And the responsibility to endorse a free press, and act judiciously when selecting and disseminating sources of information.

Isn’t it our responsibility to pursue clean air and water? To advocate for public education? To endorse the arts, culture, creativity, ingenuity? To defend civil rights? To further the reach of justice? To protect open spaces? To advance science and medicine?

Many veterans will tell you that when they were actually in combat, what they were fighting for — in those fragile precious moments as they straddled the line between living and dying — were the members of their platoon. In those minutes and hours they were fighting not for freedom and capitalism and democracy, but instead for the lives of the other men and women around them –people who they most often did not know from any previous context and who they were unlikely to see ever again after returning home.

That’s a terrifyingly beautiful thing to remember. If combat veterans fight so hard to keep alive what are in essence virtual strangers, don’t the rest of us have an obligation to ensure the quality of life for all people back at home? Our military veterans stand up for America; the rest of us should as well.

PREVIOUSLY, IN WINTHROP

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