Veteran's Day is a time to remember the sacrifices service members have made to defend our nation. There are many ways to celebrate, but few civilians have the opportunity to commemorate specific veterans for their service. Fortunately, a new book by Mark Lee Greenblatt, a criminal and ethics attorney in Washington, provides plenty of U.S. heroes to learn about.
"VALOR: Unsung Heroes from Iraq, Afghanistan and the Home Front," tells about moments of selflessness on the battlefield experienced by nine different service members. Anyone who personally knows a veteran will tell you that they don't typically talk about their experiences. While a veteran's right to privacy should be respected, their stories often convey an important quality that civilians don't usually hear about: personal sacrifice. Greenblatt picked these nine veterans because "they actively put themselves in harm's way to save a life or to accomplish a mission."
"Veterans Day is a perfect opportunity to step back from our busy lives and think about what these men and women have done -- what they have sacrificed -- for all of us," Greenblatt said. "We should challenge ourselves to get beyond some hollow token of thanks, and really consider what these individuals have experienced, day in and day out, thousands of miles from home, in the face of mortal danger."
Greenblatt's journey to find veterans willing to participate is a testament to the values they uphold. "I contacted a large number of folks and they just don't talk," said Greenblatt. "I think it boils down to a number of different things. They don't want to hold themselves out as heroes. They all bristled at the term hero, all of them. They all said ‘I'm not a hero,' and deflected credit to a colleague or minimized the danger they faced."
With the media saturated by so many fictional heroes, it's not easy for most civilians to point towards a veteran or service member as a source of inspiration. "I remember thinking to myself, ‘how come no one knows about these guys?'" Greenblatt said. "I thought we should be shouting these stories from the rooftops. I wondered why no one was writing about this, then I thought, ‘why don't I do it?'"
Greenblatt hopes that the snippet of U.S. military experiences in "VALOR" helps civilians better understand what many service members go through. Rather than mechanically retell each tale, Greenblatt attempts to convey a visceral sense of each service member's story. "I think American civilians have an understanding of what the men and women are doing overseas on an intellectual level. What I wanted to do was bridge that gap and give them the granular details, the nitty gritty, of what goes on over there," said Greenblatt.
With so many other stories still out there, Greenblatt stressed that he's conscious of the limited nature of a single book. While he doesn't have immediate plans to publish a new volume, he's taken steps to discuss and feature more tales of valor by fielding new stories on his blog. He also touched on the lack of women in "VALOR" and their part in the wars.
"I desperately tried to seek out female heroes. I approached a number of them and tried hard to persuade them. They didn't want to do it – they didn't want to hold themselves out as heroes. The problem is that there are so few women in combat situations. A very small number received valor commendations, but they refused to talk. Their involvement has been just as heroic as the men."
After over a decade of combat overseas, it stands to reason that there are volumes of untold stories of self-sacrifice in the military. Despite the achievements of so many service members, the American public tends to only hear about a small number of them. Greenblatt's "VALOR" is a step towards acknowledging what citizens tend not to hear. If you would like to personally thank one of the nine veterans featured in "VALOR," stop by Greenblatt's site and send them an email.