Martin: Being a veteran is not about carrying a weapon or fighting in battles. It’s about service to your country, and there’s a lot of ways you can serve.
Beware: Spoilers may follow
People often say they don’t make cartoons like they used to. And in some ways they are right. The truth of the matter is there are numerous topics and representations that old cartoons had in them that today’s cartoons even at their best wouldn’t be able to pull off. The Veteran’s Day episode of Hey Arnold simply titled Veterans Day is a prime example of this.
The story is that Arnold’s Grandpa Phil and Gerald’s dad Martin are upset that everyone including Arnold and Gerald merely view Veterans Day as an extra day off from school and work. They feel that no one has any interest of their stories in World War 2 and the Vietnam War respectively. Thus they decide to take the boys on a trip to Washington D.C. to teach them the true meaning of the holiday and tell them their stories of their service.
The creators do a good job of framing the concept that everyone’s day off is because of those who served. And it cleverly utilizes both comedy and heartfelt emotion.
Grandpa Phil’s stories exaggerated stories about him beating up Hitler himself prior to describing how he hilariously helped win the Battle of the Bulge are funny enough and it’s quite surprising that Nickelodeon had the guts to show off a caricature of Hitler back then. However what really makes this episode deep is Gerald learning about how his father did his part in Vietnam. Martin makes a very important statement about service from the line you see at the start of this article.
Gerald like most youngsters who don’t know much about veterans likely has been presented war imagery through the eyes of movies and video games both of which misrepresent war as the fact that only soldiers who were on the front lines can be seen as heroes. Much to his dismay, Gerald finds out that his dad did not serve on the front lines but rather due to being sick with the flu during basic training and shooting his own commanding officer wound up merely being a file clerk in the medical records office. This devastates Gerald as Martin overhears a conversation between his son and Arnold with Gerald thinking that because his dad saw no action he made no difference in going to Vietnam in the first place.
The conclusion is what truly solidifies this as an iconic episode not only in Hey Arnold but also in cartoon history. By the end, Gerald has accepted that while his dad was not a big-shot hero, he did give all that he could for a country that asked him to do so. However a veteran named Private Miller with a family of his own walks up to Martin. He tells Gerald the story about how during the Battle of An Loc, Martin while transferring some folders of files, came across Miller when he had an injured leg while his whole platoon had moved on. Martin used some of his papers to bandage the injured leg and managed to send him to a hospital. It turns out thanks to Martin, Miller has a family of his own and has been waiting 20 years to thank him. This whole thing truly proves that anyone’s service no matter how small can be a hero.
This episode blends in comedy and heartfelt emotion into an incredible episode that talks about the importance of Veterans Day in a way that kids can understand the concept and adults can appreciate the comedy and the message alike. It’s an episode that holds up well even today and will no doubt continue to do so for years to come.