7 Life Lessons I Want My Kids to Learn From Veterans

How many ‘soldiers returning home unannounced to surprise their families’ videos did you watch today? All of them? They’re the best. And the worst. Simultaneously.

One of my best friends and his fellow soldiers during one of his two deployments.
One of my best friends and his fellow soldiers during one of his two deployments.

Veteran’s Day is a big deal in our family. I know I’m forgetting some, but here’s a quick highlight of veterans close to our family:

This year, our Veterans Day started at 6:30 as I left the house with our three oldest daughters to grab breakfast at Hy-Vee (a local grocery store). They fed over 1,200 veterans today, free of charge. Just in the store by our house. They have 250+ stores.

My brother and I meet my dad for breakfast each Veterans Day morning. Same place, same buffet meal, same group of guys.

My dad in May 1965 after finishing Air Force Officer Training School.
My dad in May 1965 after finishing Air Force Officer Training School.

This year was the first time we brought some of our kids. As we talked about it before bed last night, our oldest girls said “oh yeah, we’re for sure in for that, wake us up.”

Bacon and blue carnations.
Bacon and blue carnations.

The breakfast itself was short, we were there less than 45 minutes. The food was good, the coffee was hot, and the conversation was casual.

A few war stories here and there, a few pictures, and a few companies handing out more free stuff to these veterans.

No big show, no big emotions, no big deal.


As we loaded up to get the girls to school, it wasn’t intentional, but I realized that I want the lessons and character of these veterans to rub off on our kids.

My wife’s Papa, a Navy man.

Seven main life lessons that I want our kids to learn from these veterans:

  1. Sacrifice – I heard one guy this morning say, “I wasn’t in a conflict, I served during peace time. But I wish I could have been in conflict, it felt like I had so much more to offer my country.” These soldiers were looking for ways to be inconvenienced and give up what most of us never would. Their ability to see beyond the comfort of the day-to-day, and give that up for the benefit of everyone else is shocking when you really think about it. If my kids could live with an urgency that displayed their willingness to sacrifice their comfort and their convenience for the betterment of another, whoa.
  2. Honor – Call it respect, reverence or honor. I’m sure there are exceptions, but as a whole, you don’t hear groups like the one that gathered this morning talk badly about others. They operate as if they have a noble calling, a weight that goes beyond “what’s in it for me”. Honor isn’t a word that’s kicked around a bunch in homes today, but maybe it should be.
  3. Service – it’s easy to serve someone when we get noticed for it. Or when it benefits us. But what about when no one sees it? Or when it’s gritty and messy? These veterans have a fundamental belief that serving others, even others they’ll never meet, is the way to real life. What if our kids had a baked-in understanding of the same?
  4. History – iPads, selfies, social media, the future. Our kids are facing an entirely new world and literally endless information at their fingertips. I’m firmly in the “that’s awesome” camp, but there’s a huge caution in all the new. Especially if we neglect the past in the process. By knowing, understanding and leaning into the historical path that led us to this point and these possibilities in the first place, our kids will be more rooted in reality.
  5. Story-Tellers – at every breakfast table this morning, the veteran was the one talking the most. Not because she wanted to or because he asked to be the center of attention, but because they’re a story-telling generation. And we’d be wise to listen up and learn how to tell our own stories. The future belongs to those who can articulate powerful stories and gather crowds around to listen.
  6. Anti-Hero Complex – “My mission was nothing compared to so-and-so. That tour of duty was just part of the deal. I didn’t have it as tough as some of the soldiers that deployed the following years.” Similar sentences were said all day long, all across the country today. These veterans twist, duck and dodge to get out of the spotlight. There’s no posturing, showboating or grandstanding. They’re not the hero, everyone else is. Especially the country. What if our kids got swept up into the bigger story that was being written around them? The one that takes them out of the center of their little universe.
  7. Brotherhood – Their scars tell their stories. Their fatigues tell they belong. Their wrinkles tell of their laughter and tears. It’s a humbling experience, as a civilian, to witness the bond these soldiers have with one another. A bond that knows no race, age, gender or language. A bond so deep that it bleeds. A brotherhood. A commitment to lock arms and never look back. A belief that the unit is stronger than its individual parts. A family.

In true veteran fashion, my dad posted a little message on his FB wall today that ended with “Thanks to everyone else who served and paid a much higher price than I did.” Sure hoping that rubs off on these kids.

My dad, niece and three of our daughters.
My dad, niece and three of our daughters.

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