On this very day, Germany signed the armistice ending World War One. Hardly two weeks prior, Lt. Robert L. Davidson, reconnaissance pilot with the 12th Aero Squadron had been wounded and shot down while in combat against Manfred von Richthofen’s former colleagues. The day after the Armistice, he penned these words in a letter to his family.
“On the night of November 10th the news came over the wireless that an armistice had been granted. At 9 o’clock on the morning of the 11th we received an order stating that hostilities would cease at 11 o’clock. Our mechanics and other non-combatants danced, shouted and drank and fired all manner of firearms in joy. The flyers (aircrews) reserved judgement. We were not sure but that it might be only a cessation of hostilities and we took the whole thing as a part of the day’s work. Even yet I cannot feel any undue excitement over the conclusion of the affair, even now that I know the terms of the armistice. When we pulled out of New York harbor I forgot to have my heart in my throat and to suffer any of the emotions that the magazines find so popular, as we took what might have been our last look at the Statue of Liberty. The only feeling I had was one of intense interest. Again at an important time in the world’s history, I fail to rise to the emotional heights that I am supposed to. I feel that a distasteful job has been done. I thank God that it is over. I have been down into the bottommost depths of the Valley of the Shadow of Death and have been spared. I thank God for that and know that it was the result of many prayers being answered. I have seen very dear friends of mine shot down in action and the horror of it has stayed with me for days. But now that is it all over, I am glad but not hilarious. I feel many years older. I feel tired and ambitionless. I want to go to some sunshiny place, where all is beautiful and have nothing to do but dream of better things and forget. Time will soften some of the bruises left in my very being by some of the past experiences, but to forget—that is impossible.” 
When you find a veteran today, suppress the urge to immediately “thank them for their service” and be on your way. Rather, take a genuine interest in their person. Ask them their story: how and why they got into the military, where they served, what they did and who they served with. As their memories unfold before you, listen to their words, ponder them and connect. Once your conversation is at an end, then look them in the eye with genuine gratitude. When you part, take this hard-earned freedom and use it. Build this great nation, aid your fellow man and do good.
In doing so you will have given them something far more valuable than words. You will have affirmed their hardships and valued their dedication. You will have given them time to be heard and a chance to be remembered. Most importantly, you will have ensured their sacrifices were not in vain.
Please share the stories of veterans you met today in the comments below.
. Davidson Jr., Robert L. (1893-1968), Papers, 1915-1919 (C3154), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection.