Veterans Day and patriotism have been so co-opted by blow-hards for their own nefarious purposes (Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, I’m looking at you) that I usually observe in silence. When flag waving and throw-away lines like “Support our Troops” are wielded to bludgeon out a political point — that has nothing to do with preserving freedom and everything to do with moving a political agenda — it somehow cheapens the sentiment of those of us who really know and appreciate military service. But yesterday, I listened to Obama’s Veterans Day speech, probably his best speech ever, with tears in my eyes. So it’s time for me to stop silent observation and thank the vets, particularly one.

Here is my late father, a career Army officer, a decorated combat engineer, graduated toward the top of his class at West Point, veteran of two wars including several years of deployments without his family.

There is a code in the military that you do not criticize the President as he is, in effect, your ultimate Commander-in-Chief. Dad adhered to this principle to the letter. It was only after he was long past the age when he could be called out of retirement back to active duty that he began to discuss his feelings about the Viet Nam War and politics. Dad was surprisingly a Liberal on many issues. But then I feel many of our veterans are. They are fighting for freedoms not for Patriot Acts. As a very dear friend of mine — a former Navy Seal — once said, “I’m fighting for the full range of American freedoms and that includes the freedom of dissent, even the freedom to burn the American flag.” Not that I’m advocating that. But I think it underscores something I’ve always found with veterans (and I’ve known a lot of them.) They are perhaps more than the rest of us more keenly aware of the nature of the American system and what it should represent. Because they are the people who step up and are willing to put their lives on the line to defend them.

Dad in his usual pose with pipe.

Dad in his usual pose with pipe. I’m betting Dad would have approved of Obama’s Veterans Day speech.

I was also struck by President Obama’s speech yesterday at Fort Hood, not just by his eloquent words in what I think was his best speech ever. When he included the names and a brief biography of the soldiers killed at Fort Hood, it struck me how many on that list were First Generation Americans or even naturalized citizens. Like my father, the son of a Polish immigrant, I think those who are new to this country can sometimes see more clearly the promise of America and are more willing to step forward and protect it.

So thank a Veteran today. And while you are waving the flag, think long and hard about what being an American means and what you as an American should be doing to serve. Maybe not in the military, but perhaps in ways to better your community, support legislation that extends freedoms to all Americans and allows all Americans access to the promise of America. If you are unclear on the concept, ask a vet. They’ll be able to set you straight.

Here’s the transcript of President Obama’s speech at Fort Hood. Read it and weep.

Read this for a great story about how my Dad helped the Red Sox win their historic World Series.

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