Veterans are often labeled “Heroes” for serving their country. Many Veterans are heroes but may feel uncomfortable being singled out.
The picture below is Corporal Kyle Carpenter. A United States Marine who threw himself on a grenade and saved the life of a fellow Marine. His actions caused himself and his fellow Marine a great deal of pain and thousands of hours of recovery. Recently, Corporal Carpenter was informed that he would be awarded the nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor. Since this news broke many people have called Corporal Carpenter a “Hero” for his actions. Through his selfless sacrifice, he is a hero.
As a Veteran I hear it from people all of the time. They tell me that Veterans are heroes and thank me for my service. Statements like this make me feel uncomfortable because I don’t feel like I did anything to deserve it and certainly do not consider myself a hero. I served four years in the Marine Corps, I did not see combat, or even come close to being put in dangerous situations like Corporal Carpenter was. Many Veterans who get called heroes feel similar to me on this subject. They are uncomfortable with it because they feel the real heroes are the ones that have died to save them.
I posted a question in a couple Veterans groups to ask how they felt about being called a “Hero.” Here are some of the responses I received:
“I feel that we just did our job and feel kind of awkward when called a hero. Other important professions don’t get recognition that they deserve such as teachers, firefighters, police officers and the like”
“I don’t like it; it makes me feel awkward also”
“Hero is not a word I would ever call myself. It is an uncomfortable label that is best suited for those who save lives. I did my job, I do my work in my current job, this does not make me a hero. Hero is word that is far larger than I, a deeper meaning than anything thing I have accomplished, a word that is powerful but not used properly when referring to me.”
“I let them know that my heroes are in Arlington. I am just a lucky bastard who survived.”
“I don’t feel like a hero; a damn good Airman and now Sailor, but not a hero. Maybe we need to adjust our communal meaning of the word, though. Many of us volunteered to join after the wars began and others volunteered to stay during the same period last decade. In an AVF, that may just be a modestly heroic act.”
“I am not a hero, to me our heroes are the ones who gave it all, and their families who have to live with their loved ones ultimate sacrifice. Every day people can be heroes depending on what they do to help others. Yes the word hero makes me uneasy, I just try to do the best I can.”
Many of the comments above are from U.W. Green Bay student Veterans. They demonstrate how Veterans can be uncomfortable with the term “Hero” and don’t feel comfortable to be singled out. There are Veterans who just want to come to school, sit in the classroom and learn. And then there are Veterans like myself who talk a lot and can’t keep my hand down!
Veterans are a diverse group and need to be interacted with differently. If they are in your classroom pull them aside and ask how they would like to be addressed and if they feel comfortable with you bringing up their military experience.
Teachers and educators often times have good intentions by bringing up a student’s military service in the classroom, but those intentions, as you may have learned in previous situations can go wrong very easily. So when it comes to Veterans take the time to get to know the Veteran, or military person in your class, and find out what he or she is comfortable with. I guarantee you can make a more welcoming environment and could facilitate interesting discussions in the classroom.
So instead of labeling a Veteran a “Hero” what you can do is thank them, and let them know you respect them for their service. The Veteran will be thankful that you did and it will make the Veteran or servicemember feel less awkward and uncomfortable.