It's days like these that are made for reflection. A time to stop...close the eyes...and think about all those fellow Americans who served this country, and those that are still active military, and how they protected and still strive to protect our freedoms. The freedoms we too often take for granted.
I think back to the first time I could really comprehend what it meant to be a veteran. What it meant to enlist. And the consequences of that decision. It was 1967. My mother received the call. Her nephew, my cousin, had been killed in Vietnam. She was heartbroken. But she didn't let her grief show. Instead she chose to let her support and love of the men and women serving in America's military shine.
Four years later, we said a tearful goodbye to my brother who graduated high school and immediately enlisted in the Marine Corps. We followed every news story, every headline...yearned for phone calls from my brother...waiting for the announcement that the war was over. I feared that he would face the same outcome as our cousin. I had nightmares. Fortunately, my brother never saw combat. However, he did go on to serve 30 years and retired from the military as the highest ranking enlisted Marine.
For years, I wondered why my Dad did not talk about wars and military service. All my classmates would write school reports about their Dads and bring him in for show and tell. But my Dad did not speak. Nor did he visit my classroom.
When I finally got up the nerve to ask him if he had ever enlisted or thought about it, I heard a note of sadness in my elderly Dad's voice. And no, it's not what you think.
He didn't serve. And that's what makes him unhappy.
For in his day, it was a sign of bravery and patriotism to willingly enlist and fight wars in far-off lands. It was like a badge of honor. My Dad's two brothers enlisted and headed off to war. My Dad? Because of some medical issues, he could not join his brothers and was left behind.
I believe he may feel a bit left out when men of his age group start the reminiscing and spouting the war stories and showing off the battle scars. And he has nothing to say. I'm thinking he feels ashamed about not being able to enlist so he does not join in the conversations.
Perhaps he feels cheated that he was unable to join the military, dashing his hopes of leaving a troubled life behind him. One that saw him alone and on his own at the age of 12. For despite, the possibility of being killed or injured during battle, the military for many men was a ticket to a better life. More security. On-the-job training. New skills. Great adventures. And maybe for my dad, it could have been the family he did not have.
But somehow, he persevered. And carried on. He grew into a very strong man. One of great character and honor. A humble Christian man. With a big heart. A true inspiration. And very patriotic, despite not ever wearing a military uniform. (Personally, I think his being born on the 4th of July gives him an automatic pass on being a true patriot.)
And though he could never serve in the military, he did his part by beaming with pride and being the biggest cheerleader for my brother, the Marine. And later on, for my oldest brother who enlisted in the Air Force. Then for my own husband when he joined the Navy and my youngest son when he joined the Air Force. And finally, for all those who served and continue to serve in the U.S. Military.
Though neither of my parents were members of the military, they taught me by example that I should always show the utmost respect to all who have served. And to always be grateful for the freedoms I am able to enjoy because of their sacrifices.
So on this day we've set aside to remember and honor American servicemen and women, I say a silent prayer of thanks, and ask the good Lord to watch over them and keep them from harm.
Thank you, Veterans.