Silhouette of veteran US Army Colonel Chaplain wearing hat and saluting with an American flag flying behind him.

January 7, 2021

Contributing author

Best ways to honor veterans, according to a USMC veteran Vernon David Sears Jr.

For many of us born during times of peace, it’s impossible to understand the horror and sacrifice that comes with war. In some cases, family members may share wartime memorabilia like photographs or medals to educate loved ones on their ancestor’s heroic deeds. At the same time, we might watch glorified war movies or a journalist’s account of tragic events to get a better understanding of our nation’s history. In general, past and present wars seem detached from our daily lives. Consequently, we might take for granted our American values and institutions, our ability to participate in cultural occasions, or the role we play in political events. By remembering all who served and their acts of bravery, we can appreciate and recognize the hardships they bore so that we could live in peace. A report titled, Those Who Served: America’s Veterans From World War II to the War on Terror: identifies the characteristics of the 18 million men and women who were veterans of the U.S. armed forces in 2018. Vernon David Sears Jr. is one of them. A Former Corporal of the United States Marine Corps, Vernon David Sears Jr. received an honorable discharge in 1997 and is now a passionate advocate for his military branch. Today, he reveals the top five ways to honor service members.

Attend a Veteran’s Day Event

World War I, also known as “The Great War,” officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier, after an armistice between Germany and the allied nations commenced on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. One year later, in 1919, Americans celebrated Armistice Day for the first time. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

Since then, communities across the country have gathered together for parades and public meetings that honor the nation’s noble troops. Some of the most prominent celebrations happen every year in Chillicothe, New York City, Bedford, Simi Valley, Houston, Auburn, Lewiston, Birmingham, Branson, and Los Angeles. “Although each city observes veteran’s day in there own special way, each festival has similar themes and activities.” Typical celebrations involve parades with military marches, patriotic musical selections, a moment of silence, keynote speakers, a flag-raising ceremony accompanied by the national anthem, and the opportunity to speak with attending veterans. By contributing to these events, you will acquire a deeper appreciation for the military’s on-going efforts.

Donate to a Veteran’s Foundation

Another way to show gratitude for your nation’s armed forces is by donating money to a worthy veteran’s foundation. With more than 45,000 military and veteran non-profits in the U.S., it’s hard to know which ones are legitimate. Here, Vernon David Sears Jr. shares two of his favourites, praising the value they offer the military community and their high-quality services.

Homes For Our Troops (HFOT) a publicly funded non-profit organization that builds custom homes for harshly wounded post-9/11 soldiers. Eligible veterans have sustained terrible injuries, such as multiple limb amputations, partial or full paralysis, or traumatic brain injuries. This charity has been on a mission since 2004 to help suffering veterans rebuild their lives and regain their independence. In addition to their new home, veterans get access to a pro-bono financial planner and peer mentoring to ensure individuals have the necessary tools for long-term success. As reported on their website, 90 cents of every dollar goes directly to their veteran’s programs.

Moreover, Bonnie Carroll founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) following her husband’s death during a training accident in Alaska. TAPS provides an array of programs focused on providing support to families or individuals grieving the loss of a loved one that died serving in the Armed Forces. Each year, their National Military Survivor Helpline answers more than 19,000 calls, spending roughly 225,000 minutes on the phone helping survivors cope with their relative’s loss. “At the end of the day, these services only exist because of generous donors like you understand the value of these programs,” says Vernon David Sears Jr.

Write a Letter to Someone Currently Serving

Serving in the military can be lonely, as troops are deployed far away from their family and friends for months at a time. Even if you don’t know a particular soldier, writing an anonymous letter to a service member is a touching and compassionate gesture. You don’t have to be a professional writer to create a meaningful letter. When drafting your message, Vernon David Sears Jr. recommends being positive, showing appreciation, and offering words of encouragement. “I was thrilled that someone took the time and effort to write to me, despite not knowing me,” says Vernon David Sears Jr. on his own experience receiving correspondence while actively serving in the Marine Corps.

For example, Operation Gratitude is an organization devoted to cultivating strong relationships between Americans and their military and first responder heroes through volunteer projects and simple acts of kindness. Each year, Operation Gratitude delivers approximately 300,000 care packages to deployed forces, their children at home, first responders, veterans and wounded heroes. These packages contain everything from hygiene products to snacks to letters of encouragement. Even the simplest of gestures can help a service member get through a particularly rough day and feel a little closer to home.

Give Back Through Volunteer Work

While there are many great ways to show appreciation for our nation’s service members, volunteering at a veteran’s organization is one of the most hands-on, rewarding experiences. In 2019, over 61,000 generous volunteers sacrificed nine million hours of their time to care for and support veterans. While these programs receive a decent amount of attention, we could do a lot more. “The biggest problem is that people who want to volunteer don’t know where to start,” says Vernon David Sears Jr. More often than not, individuals assume that special skills or training are needed to assist the veteran population. In reality, there are several impactful opportunities available for the average American to support their troops.

According to the recent statistics, roughly 37,900 veterans were without a home in 2018, with 38% of homeless veterans living in places considered unsuitable for human habitation. Fortunately, one organization, called the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), helps distribute a broad range of necessities to the most vulnerable of groups. In a single location, for one to three days at a time, the organization offers access to community resources, including food, clothing, medical care, job counseling, legal support—and more. These events take several months to plan and require the help of hundreds of dedicated and selfless volunteers. For a list of other reputable charities you can volunteer with, visit this website.

Speak to a Veteran About their Service

Whether you meet a veteran on the street, visit a veteran’s hospital, or attend a veteran’s day event, there are many situations in which you could engage with a veteran of the armed forces. “Most service members appreciate the opportunity to tell their stories,” says Vernon David Sears Jr. Sometimes, service members with little family or friends experience a lack of recognition during their lifetime if they were never formally welcomed home or thanked for their service. You can help rectify this by being a good listener, honest, sincere, and respectful. “A lot of people I speak to are nervous about conversing with members of the military,” says Vernon David Sears Jr., “people are often afraid of saying the wrong thing or triggering an emotional response.” He suggests light, non-intrusive conversation, such as “why did you get into the military?” or “ what did you do during your free time?” The ability to speak to someone about their service can help heal old wounds and allow them to feel valued for their valiant work.

The Bottom Line

Everyone likes to feel appreciated. Military members devote much of their life to serving a purpose greater than themselves, which deserves to be honored. So, next time you come across someone wearing a military badge, remember to thank him or her for their service.