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On Veterans Day and throughout the year, vets find ways to honor their fellows

The methods include giving back through service, building monuments, and creating lifestyle brands that celebrate fealty. 

Updated: November 11, 2020 - 12:20pm

As the United States officially observes its 77th annual Veterans Day, former service members themselves have staked out ways to honor fellow veterans throughout the year. The methods include giving back through service, building monuments, and creating lifestyle brands that celebrate fealty.

The overall goal of such efforts is to strengthen bonds and heal wounds, said Jan Scruggs, who in 1979 spearheaded efforts to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

"Beginning in 1775 our citizens have fought for freedom and to punish our enemies," Scruggs told Just the News. And, while official commemorative events are important, he noted, much is being done by individual and small groups of veterans.

Retired Army Master Sergeant Norman Hooten, a legendary warrior made famous as "Hoot" in the 2002 film "Black Hawk Down," two years ago commenced fighting on behalf of vets who were addicted to opioids. Hooten at age 57 became a pharmacist working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He soon expanded his efforts to help other vets.

Hooten took on what he thought was a one-time special project, to honor those who fought alongside him in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. The project aimed to honor the fallen by keeping their stories alive. Such stories often are best told while sitting around a fire pit at night, sipping whiskey and smoking cigars, Hooten and a group of friends decided.

"We started out by making complimentary cigars to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Mogadishu," Hooten told Just the News. "It was a one time thing and we never intended to formalize it."

The cigars were a hit: "We received a lot of follow-on requests along with requests to commemorate other military events like D-Day," Hooten said. He and his partners began selling special edition cigars, and whiskey, wanting "to help people slow down, bond with the people around them, remember those that are no longer here and to celebrate the selfless acts of servicemen and servicewomen." The Hooten Young group earmarks a portion of proceeds for veterans' charities.

So, too, do the special operations veteran proprietors of Black Rifle Coffee Company, and the ex-Green Berets who created Horse Soldier Bourbon, named after the mounts they rode into Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks.

Other vets have created charities that help both veterans and civilians.

Air Force veteran John Mahshie in 2013 turned family property into a place that "cultivates life through community." Mahshie's North Carolina-based Veterans Healing Farm grows produce and flowers that veteran-volunteers donate to a local VA hospital. The farm holds seminars and virtual classes to teach people skills such as building a fire in the forest, or making herbal tinctures.

Marine Corps veterans Jake Wood and William McNulty in 2010 launched Team Rubicon, to help victims of a devastating earthquake in Haiti. The group since has grown into a nationwide corps of veterans who respond to disasters and humanitarian crises. 

The day for honoring veterans began Nov. 11, 1947 as an Armistice Day parade in Birmingham, Ala. In 1954, it was codified as Veterans Day. 

The United States has about 18 million living veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Of that number, 32% work in public service or charitable organizations, compared to 22% of non-veterans, the VA notes — a way to continue service after they hang up their uniforms.

The reward, veterans say, is considerable.

"It was my honor to lead the effort to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.," Scruggs told Just the News. "This special place has helped heal wounds for veterans and the nation."

A day dedicated to veterans is unifying for society at large, according to the man who founded the Wall.

"Again we are a nation divided, but we all stand together on Veterans Day," Scruggs said.