In anticipation of Veterans Day, a student friar who spent 12 years in the military reflects on the importance of the holiday and of recognizing men and women who have served in the armed forces.
Each year on Nov. 11, our nation honors the men and women who served in our armed forces. This tradition dates back to Nov. 11, 1918, the final day of World War I. In 1918, this day was referred to as Armistice Day, as the word “armistice” is an agreement made by opposing sides in a war. It wasn’t until 1954 that the Nov. 11 holiday was referred to by its current name, Veterans Day.
Perhaps you are asking yourself who these “veterans” are and why we honor them each year. According to the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, there are 21.8 million veterans in the United States. This population includes all the men and women who served in the military at one time or another. This is a striking number, given that the population of the United States is approximately 323 million people. These statistics show that veterans make up nearly seven percent of the entire U.S. population. Most likely you know someone or many friends or family members who are veterans. My experience is that most veterans who are on active duty or previously served go about their lives with quiet professionalism. One might never be aware of the responsibility to service that veterans display.
Now, onto the second part of the question: why do we honor these men and women each year? From 2003 to 2015, I served in the United States Navy alongside some of these men and women. I consider it a great honor to have worked with individuals who selflessly dedicated their lives to a central mission.
I saw people make great sacrifices; whether it was having to leave loved ones behind during extended deployments or standing watch through the middle of the night, these veterans have gone to great lengths to protect and defend the rights of this great nation. And veterans are not just the ones who we read about going to war and into battles. Many veterans serve or have served in roles that may primarily have included hours and days of tedious training to be prepared should some action be required of them.
I want to share briefly the lives of two individuals who have strongly influenced me during my time in the military. These men are Lt. Brendan Looney, USN, and Capt. Owen Thorp, USNR. Unfortunately, both of these men have passed on to eternal life, however, during their life here on earth, they both had a strong impact on many people. Lt. Looney was a fellow lacrosse player at the United States Naval Academy and went on to become a Navy Seal. His genuine spirit of kindness along with his commitment and perseverance always stood out to me.
Capt. Thorp was a kind, compassionate leader who strongly valued his faith. As a submariner, I don’t believe he ever had to serve in any hostile combat. However, as a long-serving engineering instructor at the academy he used his strong Catholic faith and belief in the development of young leaders to provide immeasurable care, counsel, and encouragement to many midshipmen he met while serving there. On one occasion, he mentioned to me that he thought I might have a vocation to religious life. While I distinctly remember wrestling with this idea, it turns out that he had some wisdom there.
You all probably know some veterans as either family or friends. Let us remember all of those individuals even the ones we don’t know on this Veterans Day in gratitude for their selfless service.
Peace & all good. I wish you a happy Veterans Day!
Friar Steve Kuehn is a member of the Holy Name Province. A 2003 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he grew up in Annapolis, Md., where the academy is located. He is the youngest of four children. His father, Leo Kuehn, was a Commander in the Navy and served in aviation as a naval flight officer onboard P-3C aircraft. Steve now lives at St. Joseph’s Friary in Chicago and studies theology at Catholic Theological Union.
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