5 unconventional ways to celebrate Veterans Day
(Photo: US Air Force, Airman 1st Class Zachary Martyn)

Veterans Day can be a very inwardly focused day in the military community. With hundreds of national chains offering discounts or free things to veterans during the day and over the weekend, it can be easy to focus on the creeping consumerism of the holiday: What’s in it for military families? What’s in it for veterans? Where’s the best deal on the juiciest burger? Or the local business that’s rotating tires for free?

But there are other ways to celebrate Veterans Day, beyond the flashy ads and tempting deals. Here are five ways to do that:

1. Tell your story at a school

As a community, we sure like to bemoan the military-civilian divide and complain that kids don’t understand patriotism or sacrifice. Help to build a link in your community this Veterans Day by volunteering to tell your family’s story to a classroom. Some schools have Veterans Day programs where you might speak to a larger assembly, while others may welcome you during Social Studies, History, Civics, or a career class or segment. And remember, you don’t have to tell war stories (and, depending on the group, it may not be age appropriate to do so); you can talk about why you decided to join the military, places you’ve visited, and what life is like being in the military. If your child is in the class, this is the perfect opportunity to explain things like deployment and PCSing so that your kid’s classmates understand a little better what having a parent in the military is like.

2. Visit the VA

Many vets spend their days at the VA, nursing homes, or assisted care facilities. Volunteering regularly–or visiting during Veterans Day–can make sure they feel supported and not alone. Coordinate with the facility’s staff so they know you’re coming. If you’re uncomfortable talking one-on-one with residents, ask if you can help with community events, like bingo or game night. The facility may have a special Veterans Day program with which they may need your assistance. And if they don’t have one? Maybe you want to plan it for them!

3. Attend America’s largest parade

If you’re in or close to New York City for Veterans Day, make sure you attend the parade at least once. Known as America’s Parade, it draws nearly half a million people every year as well as thousands of participants and has nearly a century of history behind it.

4. Support veteran businesses

Put your money where your mouth is on Veterans Day by shopping local, veteran-owned small businesses. If there are none in your area (there probably are!), there are tons of online stores and services owned by prior military who would love your business. You can find them through websites like The Rosie Network.

5. Donate to help veterans

There are hundreds–if not thousands–of worthy non-profits that work to support veterans and solve issues that affect veterans and their families. If you’ve eaten free on Veterans Day, consider donating the cost of your meal to an organization like the Semper Fi Fund, Team Rubicon, or the Fisher House Foundation.

By J.G. Noll