Mr. Gecko and I were in Memphis, Tennessee, for Veteran’s Day. I’ve been debating whether or not to write about our day ever since. I’ve thought quite a bit about the things I noticed that day, but I don’t know if my thoughts are shareable.
The two of us and my Granny went to Blues City Cafe for lunch. It was one of several restaurants in the area offering free meals to veterans. We joined the long line about 15 minutes before they opened and squeezed into a table shortly before they filled up (with a long line still outside). The ribs were perfectly cooked and fall-apart tender.
Mr. Gecko was the youngest veteran eating there. What struck me most about the experience, though, was that most of the veterans there were alone or with one of two friends, and many looked like they could really use the meal. There was one group from a veterans’ home, and a handful of people who were in suits, but there were also quite a few who looked homeless or nearly so.
We also went to the West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery for their Veteran’s Day ceremony. The whole day had been cold and drizzling rain, but they had set up the ceremony outside since they didn’t have a large enough indoor space. The turnout was light, given the weather, but the veterans outnumbered the non-veterans at the ceremony, and included an old, unsteady man in his Navy uniform. He looked as if he served in World War II, and the news crews all made sure to get shots of him.
The ceremony was nice. Except for the politicians, who mostly did what politicians do- spouted hot air like a fumarole. I cried when they played TAPS, which I always do.
The day was an emotional and thought-provoking one for me. All of the veterans that we saw seemed to take pride in their service, no matter what reception they received when they came home. The elderly man rose with pride when they asked Navy veterans to stand, even though it was obviously difficult for him to do so. Seeing that pride, even in the veterans that we saw and sat next to during lunch, really hit me.
Given the state of the Veteran’s Affairs Department, the high numbers of homeless veterans, the difficulty many current veterans have in finding and keeping a job, we as a country are not doing enough to support veterans. It’s changing, slowly. There are wonderful organizations out there that have been active for years (Wounded Warrior Project and Fisher House Foundation come to mind), as well as new initiatives to aid veterans in finding homes and jobs.
I’m still processing that day. I know that I made many assumptions about the people that were seated around us, but given that Memphis is one of the worst cities for veterans in the US, I don’t think I was far off the mark. I’m not sure where I’ll take this, but I did want to get it out.