In the hustle and bustle of commercial shopping or time off from work or school, we often forget the true meaning of our holidays. Instead, let’s take a moment to reflect on a holiday true to the American ideal — Veterans Day.
Historically known as Armistice Day, Veterans Day is observed on Nov. 11 every year, marking the end of World War I. Today’s generations often forget the importance of how and why Veterans Day began — but many stay true to the meaning of the day.
One is retired U.S. Army paratrooper Austin “Doc” Bishop.
A graduate of Ellicottville Central School and CA BOCES, Doc went on to serve in the “Geronimo” 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, after high school. He spent three years and four months on active duty, and another year as reserved, attaining the rank of sergeant (E-5). He spent most of his time at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2017.
Doc was an Airborne infantryman and a fire team leader in his unit.
Veterans Day, in his eyes, is different than how civilians view it. While he agrees it is nice to see the pride that comes out of it, especially from the Afghanistan/Iraq veterans, he has one request: “Buy your buddy a beer” and “don’t make a big deal out of it.”
Doc commented that many veterans, including himself, often are proud of their service, but often have to relive difficult moments while functioning in society. He feels a simple gesture of just buying a beer resonates more than a formal handshake. In fact, Doc commented on how uncomfortable it can make a veteran feel when put in that situation.
“We do what we do for a reason,” he said of veterans. “I will appreciate any gesture, but overall an action speaks louder than words.” Recounting his own experiences, Doc spoke of how whenever he sees Vietnam veterans he always buys them drinks.
“We went through the same war, except mine was in a desert, and his was in a jungle,” Doc said. “It is something we have in common, the reason why we put our boots on every day.”
This Veterans Day, take a moment and try to understand how serving can affect someone’s life. Doc spoke of how serving changes someone forever, teaching them lessons no school could dream of. He finds himself applying his experiences of honor, core values, integrity and service into his life after war. War can create bonds that are impossible to break.
“When you’re put in situations where you are getting shot at every day and almost dying every day with the same people, you forge those unbreakable bonds. You learn how to go into any circumstance with raw arrogance and strength and come out on top nine times out of 10.”
Life after war is an experience most veterans struggle with. Transitioning back into civilian life is hard. “Civilians don’t understand how to react to our dark humor, which helps us cope with the pain.”
As gruesome as it may sound, Doc admitted the reality of serving is “not for the medals or the glory, rather doing what has to be done in order to make it home. … You learn about Murphy’s fifth law of war, which states even if anything cannot go wrong, it will go wrong.”
He said it is something one has to prepare for, regarding life and death. While one learns practical skills on the front line, such has how to mediate risk, the soldier is there for one job and one job only.
Solider-to-civilian status is life-changing, as veterans lose their surrogate family and attempt to settle into that 9-5 in society. Doc commented that the reason he feels drawn to his current career in law enforcement is due to the particular set of skills he has obtained through his life experience as a veteran. This is common among veterans, as they never lose that “Veteran Status,” Doc explained. Veterans continue to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, even at home.
“From front line troop, like I was, to support MOS, naval officer or whatever, your function in the military will continue to evolve to keep the perception of evil at bay,” he said.
“I’ve seen men go through everything from childbirth, divorces and friends dying in my time in the military. Experiencing something so raw with another human being really teaches you a lot. Sergeants are sometimes fathers to their men so that pride or guilt transfers as well.”
Doc spoke highly of his fellow soldiers, commenting that his paratroopers were some of the best ever, in his opinion. He touched on how war taught him to be a dad to his troops, but also a friend.
Doc retired as a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne with a Bronze Star, an Army Commendation Medal and a Purple Heart. He attributes his success to “caffeine and hate” for enemies of the U.S.
This Veterans Day, try to thank a veteran through action. Buy one a beer, offer one a smile — because we are safe at our homes here because of their work in the U.S. Armed Forces.
(Ginna Hensel is a correspondent with the Bradford Publishing Co. group of newspapers and a student at Jamestown Community College.)