Mu­seum helps tell vet­er­ans’ sto­ries ev­ery day of the year

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - Re­tired Lt. Gen. Michael Fer­riter is pres­i­dent and CEO of the Na­tional Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial and Mu­seum.

EMichael Fer­riter

ach Novem­ber, we ob­serve Vet­er­ans Day to col­lec­tively rec­og­nize those who so bravely served our coun­try. While this day en­cour­ages con­ver­sa­tion about our na­tion’s vet­er­ans, it is all too com­mon to let the con­ver­sa­tion end with the day, only to start again next Novem­ber.

Less than two weeks ago, right here in Colum­bus, the Na­tional Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial and Mu­seum opened its doors to the pub­lic. Built on four pil­lars — Honor, Con­nect, In­spire, Ed­u­cate — it is a place for all to wit­ness the sac­ri­fices our men and women make in or­der to serve our coun­try. Af­ter my 35-year ca­reer in the United States Army, I could not have been more proud to welcome my fel­low ser­vice­men and ser­vice­women as they ex­pe­ri­enced the mu­seum for the first time.

I had the op­por­tu­nity to meet the mother who lost her son. A mother who al­lowed us to share her pow­er­ful story through a heart­break­ing, sin­gle photo in the Coming Home ex­hibit. I shook the hand of a vet­eran who brought his grand­son to the mu­seum to share sto­ries of his time in ser­vice, maybe some for the first time.

I watched as a POW and his wife moved through the the­matic al­coves, lis­ten­ing to their own sto­ries from decades ago, shared in their own words. Each vet­eran, each story, each mo­ment is a pow­er­ful tes­ta­ment to what it means to serve — to give of one’s self, to sac­ri­fice for the good of all, not just one.

There is a place to write ques­tions on gi­ant note cards and hang on a dis­play. Guests should carry these vet­eran sto­ries be­yond the con­crete walls and the glass win­dows, ea­ger to share with oth­ers.

The al­cove is called A Na­tional Con­ver­sa­tion. On the evening of the grand open­ing, I no­ticed a ques­tion hung here, writ­ten by a child. It said, “If you know that you are go­ing to miss home, why do you leave?”

There are many an­swers to this ques­tion and they are as var­ied as the 42 mil­lion peo­ple who have served this coun­try since our begin­ning. But I know that many vet­er­ans would say, I leave for you. I leave in or­der to make the world a bet­ter place for you to live and to pur­sue your own path, what­ever that may be.

It is my hope that when guests leave this place, they carry these vet­eran sto­ries be­yond the con­crete walls and the glass win­dows, ea­ger to share with oth­ers. Whether it’s walk­ing through the al­coves and en­gag­ing in deeply per­sonal ac­counts of vet­eran ex­pe­ri­ences or gazing up at the pho­tos hang­ing from the ceil­ing in the Great Hall, these are the sto­ries of our vet­er­ans, our fam­ily, our friends and our next-door neigh­bors.

It is my hope that this con­nec­tion will in­spire a rip­ple ef­fect. The NVMM is a plat­form for a much greater dis­cus­sion, and it all starts with a story. With each visit, these sto­ries take new form. They are re­told around the din­ner ta­ble or over the phone to a friend.

They are points of dis­cus­sion af­ter a class field trip and a new way for chil­dren to con­nect with their grand­par­ents who have served. They take the form of a “thank you for your ser­vice” ex­tended to a stranger in the air­port and the ul­ti­mate ques­tion to our loved ones, and to our­selves, of what other sto­ries have yet to be told.

To limit our recog­ni­tion of vet­er­ans to one day is to do an in­jus­tice. Let the con­ver­sa­tion con­tinue. Make the ef­fort to ask for and listen to vet­er­ans’ sto­ries, to ed­u­cate your­self and help to ed­u­cate oth­ers.

To­day I am grate­ful for my fel­low vet­er­ans. I am thank­ful for ev­ery­one who chose to put oth­ers be­fore them­selves, to pri­or­i­tize this coun­try and all of those who call it home. Come to­mor­row and be­yond, I will still be thank­ing them. Do not limit your grat­i­tude to one day. Choose to start, con­tinue and con­trib­ute to this dis­cus­sion each and ev­ery day hon­or­ing those who have served.

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