Veterans: Why Don’t You Wear What You Earned?
by Kerry Patton
In 2006, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs encouraged Military veterans to wear their medals on civilian attire during specific times of the year and or specific events. Times of the year include Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, along with other “patriotic holidays.” Specific events included funerals and weddings, retirement ceremonies, etc.
I never knew about such a push by the government to try and get veterans to wear their earned medals.
During Veteran’s Day, I posed the question to followers on my Facebook Page: “Does anyone on my page wear their medals? Veteran brethren, please chime in with your thoughts.”
Admittedly, I posed the question due to mixed feelings.
A major part of me believes military veterans should wear their medals during appropriate times on civilian attire. It demonstrates pride of service. But most importantly, it is an act that possibly, just possibly, can assist in bridging the military-civilian divide.
While I believe we veterans should wear such, I am also a bit against the display of wearing such. Do we really need to show others what we earned via a materialistic object like some medal or lapel pin? Would doing such make us appear to be “THAT GUY” who the vast majority of us veterans despise?
Then again, who is “THAT GUY?”
Oh, “THAT GUY” is an article all on its own but I believe it is fair to say every one of us who ever served knows who I speak of.
What I learned by posting the aforementioned question is that I am not alone.
The vast majority of followers were completely against wearing such medals on civilian attire. Almost every single person said that the act would make them feel like they were being “THAT GUY” displaying the “Hey, look at me” mentality.
One specific individual, my good friend Tim Lynch who runs the “Free Range International” Blog site, was quick to say what I feared most: “the first thing I would think if I saw somebody decked out like that is stolen valor.”
Tim’s comment concerned me more than any other comment out there because 1. I completely agree with him. And 2. It demonstrates a concerning psyche among us veterans.
The concerning psyche which I am discussing is a problem– the fact our psyche thinks stolen valor before thanks for serving. It’s sad.
I have seen a plethora of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam Veterans wear their medals on civilian attire. I have even seen such on a few WWI veterans. I have seen such displayed and immediately I thought, “That guy was a badass.”
While walking with my children and upon seeing such patriots, I have used that moment to help my very young children understand a bit of history and even at times have my kids walk up and shake such individual’s hands thanking them for their service (not on Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, etc. but rather any day we see such).
Never once did the thought of Stolen Valor ever cross my mind when I saw such individuals display devices on civilian attire or when you see them walking around wearing ball caps showcasing the war they were a part of.
On my friend list, among the comments, no one said they thought the practice was anything derogatory but rather they simply answered with a “No. No, they never do it.” Only one person said anything about Stolen Valor.
So I question, why? Why won’t today’s veterans wear our earned medals on civilian attire as the Department of Veterans Affairs asks?
Here is my theory:
We are scared. We are scared to display such for the very reason my buddy Tim Lynch mentioned. We fear being called out by our peers as cases of Stolen Valor.
This is who we modern day veterans have become.
We have become a class of individuals who try and hunt prey any moment we can. We try to find individuals, create some videos, and call them out for Stolen Valor.
In the past, I have spoken with Anthony Anderson, CEO of Grounds of Valor and creator of the Guardian of Valor website. He has stated his intent was not to create a culture of Stolen Valor hunters but rather utilize a highly professional team of investigators to assist government entities and law enforcement officials to uncover the backgrounds of others who utilize veteran status illegally for personal gain.
Anthony is a stand-up man doing what he and his team believe is right. They have gone as far as assist the federal government and state level governments in passing Stolen Valor Laws which in my opinion are needed.
But, what Anthony is vehemently against is the indiscriminate targeting of our own.
Because I truly believe he, like many others, does not want to create a culture that puts fear in legitimate veterans who may attempt to pick up the reigns from those veterans before us who tried desperately to help bridge the military-civilian divide.
We should be proud of who we are, what we have done, and our culture of military honor.
In the words of Anthony Anderson, “we should all be proud of what we earned while serving and we should wear it proudly.”
The odds are, very few will do it but today, I encourage more of us veterans who fought in today’s wars to start displaying earned items on our civilian attire during appropriate times.
Let’s give the man walking with his children in a parking lot an opportunity to use what he sees from our attire to start a conversation, a history lesson if you will, to help tomorrow’s future. After all, we are the ones who fought the longest war in America’s history.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal November 13, 2018.
Kerry Patton is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force turned actor, producer, director, writer, and stunt performer.