Ways to Honor a Soldier on Veterans Day

When asked to explain the meaning of Veterans Day and what it stands for, many Americans will mistakenly say that the annual November 11 holiday is a time to remember those who gave their lives defending our freedoms while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. That's actually the idea behind the Memorial Day holiday; Veterans Day is intended to celebrate and honor every soldier, present or past, living or dead, for his or her service in the military.

Veteran observing and honoring at the Alaska Veterans Memorial.
Highlywood Photography / Getty Images

Our country takes great and deserved care of its honored soldiers. We, its citizens, who daily reap the benefits of the freedoms that so many brave men and women preserve and protect, should likewise take great and deliberate care to express our gratitude for their service and sacrifice. This article offers 10 meaningful ways you can honor a soldier, past or present, during the Veterans Day holiday.

A Brief History of Veterans Day

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson designated November 11 as "Armistice Day" in order to commemorate the end of World War I—which ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (literally 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918). In 1938, Armistice Day became an official U.S. holiday.

In 1954, however, after a second war had engulfed the world, as well as the Korean War soon after that, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In the official proclamation he issued, he stated that on November 11 each year:

"...let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain."

Knowing its importance and history now, here are meaningful ways you can honor a soldier, past or present, during Veterans Day.

Give Thanks

A simple-yet-meaningful way you can honor the service and sacrifice of our troops is simply to express your sincere thanks and appreciation to the many military veterans still living, as well as anyone actively serving in the Armed Forces. Thus, whether he or she is a family member, a friend or someone you encounter during a parade, a funeral or memorial service, in an airport or store, etc., please make a point of politely saying, "Thank you for your service!"

Every year, people donate more than $2.5 billion to more than 40,000 American charities with military-related missions. From driving veterans to/from a local Veterans Affairs (VA) facility for an appointment to helping at a Welcome Home event, there are many opportunities for you to volunteer your time and talents to help area veterans.

In addition, you can donate cash to improve the comfort and welfare of veterans, as well as non-cash items such as clothing and blankets, reading materials, and prepaid calling cards. To discover how you can help, please visit the VA's Voluntary Service webpage.

Attend a Gathering

Every November 11, businesses and organizations, communities and cemeteries, and many others across the United States hold events honoring our troops, past and present, that you can attend. For example, many of the 142 national cemeteries operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hold ceremonies to honor veterans—often at 11 a.m. local time. (See "A Brief History of Veterans Day" above to understand why.)

Help Others Gather

Roughly 16 million American men and women served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, and more than 400,000 of them paid the ultimate price during this global fight against tyranny. Unfortunately, it took more than 60 years to create a national memorial honoring their service, by which time many of the surviving veterans would likely never visit it due to health and/or financial reasons.

Retired Air Force Captain Earl Morse, a licensed pilot who worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Ohio, did something about this by creating "Honor Flight." This non-profit organization flies WWII vets to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, at absolutely no cost to the veterans. Honor Flight has transported over 200,000 World War II veterans to the memorial. If you wish to honor a deceased veteran, consider making a financial contribution to Honor Flight, or even organizing a trip for military veterans in your area.​

Create a Certificate

The men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms deserve the thanks of a grateful nation. Among the many ways, our country shows its appreciation for these sacrifices is by providing burial and memorial benefits to current and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces. One such benefit is a Presidential Memorial Certificate, a free engraved paper certificate signed by the current U.S. president. Framed or not, this impressive official document clearly conveys that both our country and the bearer appreciate the soldier's military service.​

Author's note: While the application process is relatively easy, the wheels of government grind slowly so don't expect your certificate to arrive quickly. For example, after submitting the necessary paperwork in November 2012, it took more than three months before I received a Presidential Memorial Certificate honoring my grandfather for his service during World War II. That said, it's worth the wait but you should definitely order more than one certificate at a time (I ordered two) so you can give one to another family member or friend who would appreciate it.

School Yourself

As noted above, many Americans do not know or fully understand the meaning of the Veterans Day holiday, and too often confuse its purpose with that of Memorial Day. In order to honor the sacrifice and struggle of every U.S. soldier, living or dead, on November 11, take the time to make sure you understand why this special day of recognition and commemoration exists. First, you can watch a short video about the history and meaning of Veterans Day, narrated by U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class Liz Vlahos. Next, take this challenging 10-question online quiz about Veterans Day, courtesy of AARP. Finally, share both the video and the quiz with your friends and family to help them better understand and appreciate the importance and significance of this annual holiday.

School a Veteran

Since 2007, cable television's History network has helped thousands of schools across the country hold a "Take a Veteran to School Day" event. Sometimes conducted for the entire student body, sometimes just involving the students in a single classroom, these opportunities connect American military veterans with K-12 students. To discover how you can bring a veteran to your school to share his or her stories and educate students about their past, visit the History network's "Take a Veteran to School" page, which provides links to a how-to guide in English and Spanish, curriculum guides, links to additional resources, etc.

Visit a Memorial

In towns and cities across the country, you will find memorials dedicated to the brave men and women who served in the Armed Forces. Whether honoring the soldiers of a particular war or battle, a specific branch of military service, an individual who distinguished him or herself during combat, etc., consider visiting a memorial in your area—especially if you've never played "hometown tourist" before.

In addition, every American should experience at least once the many historic treasures in our nation's capital, Washington, DC—particularly the memorials dedicated to the brave men and women who fought in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, as well as Arlington National Cemetery. Whether on foot, bus or Segway, public or private, during day or night, etc., visiting the memorials in Washington, DC, is a great way to honor our troops, past and present.

Visit a Cemetery

Finally, consider honoring a deceased soldier on Veterans Day by visiting his or her gravesite, the spot where his or her cremated remains ("ashes") were scattered, or some other significant location in the life of the deceased. While there, you should remove any debris, such as leaves or dead flowers, from the gravesite and then leave a fresh floral bouquet and/or an American flag at his or her resting place to denote your visit and your appreciation. This act doesn't merely honor the dead; every living soldier, presently in service or not, would find comfort in knowing that his or her memory will live on in the hearts and minds of a grateful nation.

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Article Sources
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  2. History. Veterans Day 2020. Updated January 30, 2020.

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  7. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. World War II.

  8. Honor Flight Network. Honor flights - honoring our veterans.

  9. U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs. National cemetery administration presidential memorial certificate. Updated May 31, 2018.

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  11. AARP. How much do you know about Veterans Day? Updated

  12. The National Coalition for History. Sign up for take a veteran to school day.

  13. History. Take a veteran to school day.