Veterans deserve respect, thanks

By Anita Doberman: Columnist

Growing up I loved to hear my grandparents talk about their experiences during WWII, especially their escape story.

During German occupation, my grandfather, who had worked for the Italian government in the past, was ordered to come back and collaborate with the Germans. Unwilling to do so and opposing the regime, he decided to escape with his wife and three young children.

Leaving everything behind, my grandparents pretended to go for an evening stroll and with the help of the Resistance, left Rome. They were transported in a truck and reached their destination, Florence, where they hid in the basement of a kind Italian family for several months.

My grandmother told me that during those months she often felt desperate and that the only thing that kept her going was the hope that “gli Americani,” the Americans, would eventually arrive.

And one day they did. My grandmother heard people yelling in the streets “sono arrivati gli Americani!” – the Americans have arrived – and told me that seeing these American soldiers was one of the happiest moments in her life. She felt pure joy, happiness and gratitude for these young men who brought freedom.

My grandmother also told me that she could never forget the faces of the brave soldiers she saw. We shouldn’t forget them either.

Unfortunately, on this Veterans Day, their faces are sometimes those we try to forget — the desperate and homeless — faces of loss and injustice. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that one in four homeless are veterans, and while veterans are only 10 percent of the adult population, they make up 25 percent of the homeless.

Even today when returning warriors are considered heroes, many eventually fall through the cracks. There are many sad stories, often compounded by veteran-specific problems like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Regardless of our political affiliations, there are many things we can do to honor and help these veterans. We can show them that we care by listening to their story, getting involved with organizations that support veterans — like the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the VA, and numerous others — and we can advocate in our community. We can teach our children that we don’t forget those who have served for this country and tell them what Veterans Day is about.

Not all of us have time or money to devote, so there’s always the option of using the very democracy these servicemen fought to protect. Contact your elected officials and let them know veterans’ welfare is something you care about, and something you’ll base your vote on.

Since I married my husband, I have often thought about my grandmother’s story and her happiness at the sight of American soldiers. Who knows, maybe I crossed paths with someone who freed the families in my home country. It’s heartbreaking to think I might have crossed paths with him on the street.

This Veterans Day let’s not forget about our heroes.