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SCOTT DREYER: If You’re Free, Thank a Vet

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.          –John 15:13

English is a crazy language. 

  • Why do you drive on a parkway but park in a driveway? 
  • How can a house burn up while it is burning down? 
  • Why does half rhyme with laugh, but Roger does not rhyme with Kroger?

Some years ago I was wearing a “If You’re Free Thank a Vet” button on Veteran’s Day while teaching my honors 9th grade history class. I noticed one student kept looking at it with a baffled look on her face. Finally near the end of class she raised her hand and asked, “If I’m free, why should I thank a veterinarian?”

I asked another student to explain that to her, and we all shared a good-natured laugh.  

But all joking aside, Veterans Day is today, November 11. Originally called Armistice Day, it marks the date in 1918 the horror known as World War I ended. The World War I generation is all gone, and those who fought in WWII are in their mid-90s or older. While serving as a poll watcher in last Tuesday’s elections, I saw a gentleman wearing a black “WWII Vet” cap. I was grateful to see him not only voting but also able to walk briskly, unaided.

I do not mean to sound boastful, but having studied one year of college in Germany and having taught ten years in Taiwan, I developed some ability to view things from more than an exclusively American perspective. I am concerned that many of us Americans are not aware of how truly dangerous and harsh this world can be, and how relatively safe, comfortable, and prosperous our lives are here. I am not wearing rose-colored glasses and claiming everything here is hunky-dorey and flawless. That claim is silly. But, on this Veterans Day, we should be mindful of those who have served in the Armed Forces before and who have given us our freedoms and prosperity. 

Have you seen this gem from G. Michael Hopf? 

Hard times create strong men,                                                                                  Strong men create good times,                                                                                  Good times create weak men,                                                                                  Weak men create hard times.

Sociologists have dubbed the cohort that entered adulthood in the crucible of the Great Depression and WWII as “The Greatest Generation.” Those hard times created strong men. Those who survived fighting for freedom returned home, started families, went to work, and built a society of wealth and freedom unparalleled in world history. Simply put, the WWI and WWII generations created “good times” that began in the 1950s and you could argue continue till today. The baby boomers and all those who came after grew up in relative peace and affluence. Ironically, affluence helped coin the new term “affluenza,” which means “feelings of guilt, lack of motivation, isolation, debt, and extreme materialism.” 

In a tribute to his grandfather who earned a Bronze Star for his bravery fighting in the Italian Alps during WWII, columnist Chris Barron penned “Reflections on Veteran’s Day: How we went from the Greatest Generation to the Ungrateful Generation.” Barron opines that because so many members of previous generations were by nature humble and unassuming, they did not boast or speak of their exploits. Therefore, “In one of the cruelest turns of history, the very humility of so many of our heroes have led to their stories being lost.”

In turn, many believe the past 70 years of extreme wealth have created the “weak men” that help explain the “hard times” we are now seeing. If you do not believe we are experiencing hard times, please check today’s news headlines. 

One of the best tributes I have ever heard for American vets came from former US Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) speaking–ironically–at the 2004 Republican convention. Here is an excerpt:

“Never in the history of the world has any soldier sacrificed more for the freedom and liberty of total strangers than the American soldier. And, our soldiers don’t just give freedom abroad, they preserve it for us here at home.

For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest.

It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag.”

If you are free, thank a vet.

Happy Veterans Day!

– Scott Dreyer


English is a Crazy Language

Hard Times Create Strong Men

Definition of “Affluenza” 

Reflections on Veterans Day: How we went from the Greatest Generation to the Ungrateful Generation

Text of Speech by Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA)

Does “Veterans Day” need an apostrophe?


Scott Dreyer M.A. in his classroom. Dreyer, of Roanoke, has been a licensed teacher since 1987 and now leads a team of educators teaching English and ESL to a global audience. Their website is

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