Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

A Veteran's Perspective on Military Appreciation at Hockey Games

 

I served in the military and I always dread veteran’s day. It makes me feel cheap. I don’t particularly like being the center of attention (off the internet at least) and to me everything always feels half-hearted. ‘Thanks for your service! Ya know, not that I actually understand what you sacrificed or anything but it’s November 11th so I’m obligated to say something” is what it always sounded like to me. It bugs me that we all seem so ready to thank veterans on this day and maybe on memorial day and the other 363 days of the year it’s back to worshipping our athletes and musicians. But there are some hockey teams that go out of their way to make sure we don’t.

I was lucky enough to get to see the Red Wings live in the playoffs last year. Game 4 against the Ducks. My dad flew me from Virginia to Detroit and we got to meet Gordie Howe at the DC airport during our layover, but that’s another story for another time. Probably the off season when we all run out of things to write about. During a TV timeout, there was a salute to the military at Joe Louis Arena. A few service members were put on the big screen, they waved and smiled, everyone stood up and cheered and clapped while some patriotic song played. I remember being really bothered by the entire thing, and not just because the two guys in front of us didn’t bother to stand up.

The Detroit Red Wings are hardly unique in this tribute to the troops or whatever a team wants to call it. I’d say most if not all teams do it, Canada too. It bothers me on an individual level because in a way, it reminds me of my own struggle. Here’s a service member, singled out, and everyone is staring at him like he’s a damn zoo animal. I’ve grown to hate it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure teams have nothing but good intentions when doing these things. But we all know what the road to hell is paved with.

My transition back to civilian life was a difficult one because I felt like I was alone. I went straight to college, where I was older than a significant portion of the population, and I felt like I was singled out, like no one could relate to what this transition would be like. I personally would be mortified if someone tried to make me stand up and thank me for my service in front of 18,000 at a Red Wings game (or 180 at a Blue Jackets game. ZING!) Not because they’d mean any ill harm by doing so, but because of the act of being singled out. Of being the zoo animal. “Look at him, he’s different.” Some veterans are extremely proud of their service and would be delighted to take part in something like this, and that’s fine. But I try hard to blend back in and live like it never happened.

It also bothers me because when people stand up and applaud at these salutes/tributes, I think people genuinely believe they’re doing something great for military service members or veterans. (I keep saying service members because typing ‘soliders/sailors/marines/airmen/coastgaurdsmen’ over and over would grow tiresome). And while it’s nice that you’ve stroked this person’s ego a bit, in the grand scheme of things you aren’t doing anything. It’s analogous to the person with the gas-guzzling SUV that has a yellow ribbon magnet because he/she really ‘supports’ our troops. It’s great if you want to make yourself feel better, but if you want to genuinely make an impact on a service member, it doesn’t do squat.

If you really want to put your money where your mouth is when it comes to supporting veterans and service members, give to the USO. There’s this thing called the Wounded Warrior Project, check it out. The American Red Cross does great work with the military too. As does Habitat for Humanity. Maybe I come off sounding bitter, and that’s ok. Maybe the purpose of Veteran’s Day is to make those who didn’t serve feel less guilty about those that do, and that’s important too I guess. But if you genuinely want to go about accomplishing something, wearing those hideous camouflage jerseys during warm up does not accomplish anything. Auctioning said jerseys after the game, however, and giving the money to a veterans educational fund like the Blue Jackets have become so fond of doing, does wonders.

So should we do away with the self-fellating military salutes at hockey games? Probably not, no. If we went around getting rid of things just because one person didn’t like it, we wouldn’t have a whole lot left.  And just because a team does one of these silly displays doesn’t mean they aren’t doing other things to actually help and support the military too. Homelessness, unemployment, mental health, just transitioning back to being a person again, these are all things returning veterans struggle with, and that’s the ones that didn’t suffer bodily harm during their service. My transition wasn’t easy but it was a goddamn cake walk compared to what some of these men and women go through. And there’s plenty of NHL teams and minor league teams that give generously to help ease this burden.

You may ask “But John, if you don’t want to do away with the military salutes at games, what the hell are you trying to accomplish by writing this then?” I honestly don’t know. Maybe I just wanted to provide some perspective. Maybe I just wanted to share an unpopular opinion. (The internet is great for that!) Maybe I wanted veteran’s day to mean a little more this year. But the spa across the street from my apartment complex is giving free massages to veterans today. So I guess I shouldn’t complain.

 

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