Have you ever had the opportunity to sit down and listen to a veteran who served in a previous era? One of the interesting things that I notice is that sometimes people overlook veterans around them, fail to notice them or even realize what amazing things they’ve seen and done in their life.

That group of older gentlemen hanging out in the corner at McDonalds? A few of them have walked the streets of Saigon or wove in and out of the trees of a Rubber Tree plantation. One of them might have served with the 10th Special Forces Group in Bad Tolz, Germany during the Cold War era. Another might have been a submariner aboard the Ohio on it’s maiden voyage. It would be easy to dismiss them as “the group of old guys in the corner” but it would also be a mistake.

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2, King James Version

The guy handing out towels at your local gym? He’s been on the Highway of Death during the Gulf War. The nice lady behind the checkout counter? She was a Drill Instructor in the Marines, although you might not believe it. I once had the privilege of meeting a veteran who had served as an MP with the 82nd Airborne Division in Panama, and deployed to the Persian Gulf in the Gulf War. After his discharge, he then served in a different way…twenty-two years in Folsom prison for things that happened after he got out of the Army in the early ‘90s. Did what happen later diminish what happened before? Not in my eyes.

Take a look at a video that’s been out for a couple of years, a take on what it might feel like and seem like to be overlooked…and then what happens when service is acknowledged.

One of my favorite stories of an overlooked veteran happened about forty years ago at the Air Force Academy. Others have told the story better, but I’ll give a brief synopsis here.

In 1943, Private William J. Crawford singlehandedly took out three machine gun nests in Italy during World War II. He was assumed to have been killed in action during that battle, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. In reality, he had been captured and held as a Prisoner of War. He, and those he served with, never realized that he was a Medal of Honor recipient, and Private Crawford continued his military career.

After he retired as a Master Sergeant, Mr. Crawford found employment as a janitor at the United States Air Force Academy. It was here, in 1977, that some of the cadets realized that their squadron janitor was actually a hero. Quiet and unassuming, Master Sergeant Crawford didn’t reveal his status as a POW or Medal of Honor recipient, and only did the job that he had to the best of his ability. There is much more to the story, if you’re interested, and you can read Colonel (Retired) James E. Moschgat’s first hand account here.

This post is published on December 6th, 2016, one day before the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Franklin D. Roosevelt called it “a date that will live in infamy,” but the place that it actually lives is in the memories of those who were there. The time is rapidly approaching in which there will be no more living World War II veterans, and after the passage of time, the Korean War veterans, the Vietnam veterans, the Cold War veterans, the Gulf War veterans, and yes, even us loud-mouthed and virtually indestructible OIF/OEF veterans will eventually fade away.

Take the time to honor them while they’re here. Take time to listen to their stories, understand what it is like for someone who was once there and now is here, for someone who has experienced loss and sacrifice on an unimaginable level.

Whether you agree or not, their sacrifice is the price of freedom. Repay that sacrifice with respect, and you’ll be rewarded with gratitude.

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Duane France

Duane K. L. France is a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a mental health counselor practicing in the state of Colorado. Do you want to join the conversation regarding veteran mental health? Share, like, and comment. Read Duane's previous posts and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Keep the conversation about #veteranmentalhealth going.