The first person I honor when I think of Veterans Day in the United States, is my father. Ed Levitt was a PFC (Private First Class) in the US Army. He served for 23 months, working at a munitions factory or storage unit in Stuttgart in the early 1950s.
My father used to reminisce about his time in the Army, focusing on the more colorful and humorous elements: going to Shabbat services mainly to get good deli sandwich meals, taking leave and traveling to Rome and almost getting hit by people on speeding  motor scooters, learning how to take apart and reassemble a rifle and noticing that some members of his unit could not do that.

He told me about the modest ribbing he got as a Jew (being called an "Abie"), but also pointed out that a lot of the other soldiers were branded with nicknames, often slightly derogatory as well. He spoke of imitating the Chinese-American cook in the mess area by referring to "Flench Flies" (french fries) and making the guy sputter something that cannot be repeated in this essay (but trust me, it's funny). He mentioned that he didn't use his cigarette rations so he would sell or trade them to other guys. He spoke eagerly about a class he took while in the Army, in basic Russian language skills. We still have the textbook.

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To be honest, my father served in the military because he was compelled to do so, and there is no dodging that. He was drafted, he served, he reaped benefits (college, etc.) and when his time was up, he did not make a career of this. He had no desire to do so. For Ed Levitt, it was an obligation and a way to do some traveling.

Was he a hero? No. And I dislike when people use that word so freely. You can be a good person, someone who does worthwhile things, and not necessarily qualify as a hero. Yet today, when I posted on Facebook a photo of Dad in his uniform to commemorate Veterans Day, one woman insisted that he must be a hero. I already stated publicly that he did not perform heroic actions so he really wasn't a hero, and he would not consider himself as such, but this woman was already running with the praise so I just let it go.

Perhaps the most sobering thing my dad told me about his military service was when he and other men were approached and asked if they would volunteer in the fighting in Korea. He served in the Army during the Korean War but not in that conflict. My father told me frankly that he did not want to volunteer for that and kept mum. He spoke about how he knew the Korean War was a big "mess" and he wanted no part in it.

So was my father a coward? Or a realist? I do not think he was a coward. And he was not in the mood to "play hero". He was a realist who did not want a career in the armed forces.
In many ways it is very different to serve in the US military, as compared to the Israeli military. And I will not deny that there have been many times when I disagreed with America's military interventions, and would not encourage my own family members to enlist.

But in the spirit of Veterans Day, I do think that I and every American should respect the fact that veterans have their various reasons for serving, the work is often afflicted with horrors, and veterans do deserve the medical care and benefits they have been promised. Serving in the military is an educational experience as well. And there are many different ways in which we can serve our nation and communities: teaching, policing, fire fighting, medical care and other fields also make worthy and necessary contributions. But we should honor our veterans especially on this November day.

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