Hug a Vet Day! Or at least say thanks…

The meeting planner warned me that one of the attendees, an attorney, was known for asking questions that were acidic, rude or confrontational. After 5,000 presentations, dealing with folks like that is not comfortable, but is usually manageable.

The meeting planner had highlighted my military experience in the introduction, so when the time came to address the questions and interests of those in the audience, the attendee sarcastically and pointedly asked, “Are you proud of what you did to earn your medal?”

That was a new one.

His agenda, confirmed later, was evident in his question. My response included my aversion to war and combat specifically. While most combat veterans would not take a million dollars for what they learned, it would take more than a million dollars for them to go back through it again. The exception would be that if we could go in place of one of our sons, we would.

No war no more?

Thinking back, the Vietnam War began under the Kennedy administration, was escalated during the Johnson administration and ended during the Nixon era. Those who were drafted during that time had three choices: flee to Canada, go to prison or serve their country when their country called.

Once in combat, the draftee again had three choices: hide, kill or be killed.

Was I proud of my role in bringing about the death of another human being? Anyone who would take pride in that alone might deserve the disdain of the questioner.

In retrospect, four mothers and one wife appreciated what I did. I can take some pride in that.

While other men – young boys really – fought and did their part, I did mine.

A Question for You

The larger question for all of us is whether or not we are proud of what we did; including what we did way back when, what we did recently and what we just did. We can test ourselves using the letters in the word the questioner used to challenge the speaker: PROUD.

P – Purpose. What was the reason behind what we did? For some of us in the military it was to serve God, country and comrades; for others it was to serve country and comrades. If we do the right thing for the wrong reason, we did the wrong thing. If we do the wrong thing for the right reason, we did the right thing. Intent matters.

R – Respect. Respect comes in two flavors: self-respect and respect for others. “If only I had…” can be an indicator of a lack of self-respect. We all have regrets. We can, however, be proud of what we have accomplished. A different, higher and better form of pride results when we act out of respect for others. This is especially true when we show respect for those who are weaker than us, or needier or helpless.

O – Others. Pride that results from a “look at me!” attitude does not last. Feeling proud about helping the helpless, thanking the thankless and loving the unlovely lasts a lifetime – or longer.

U – Unique. You are unique; there is no one else like you; never has been and never will be. Each of us is to be proud of our individual behavior. The CEO may proudly report the earnings for the quarter, but their pride should not exceed the pride of the assembly line technician whose skills also contributed to the corporate results.

D – Determination. Once you have experienced a truly prideful event, you will want to experience another. The big events are rare; the smaller ones are plentiful. Look for them and you will find them.


The questioner and I will probably never agree politically or any other way, but we shook hands when we parted ways. I’m proud of that even though there were many other times I fell shamefully short in similar situations.

Five Ways to Honor a Vet
  • Say, “Thank you for your service” – sort of like saying “Have a nice day”
  • Say, “I appreciate your service” – personalizes it
  • Say, “Here, have another doughnut” – my personal favorite
  • Stand for the National Anthem
  • Say a prayer for those who serve
New Program:

The unlikely answer to the question:

“What is a H.E.R.O.?”

There could be one in your mirror

Motivational talk suitable for keynotes, churches, non-profits.