My wife was in the grocery store check-out line on Veterans Day, anonymously audience to a discussion behind her between two women. One of them mentioned to the other that her husband, father of their four children, had been killed serving in Iraq. When the listener expressed her shocked condolences, the military widow comforted her: “That’s all right. He died doing what he loved.”
Got that? The reassuring words of a husband-less mother of four now father-less children.
My wife was in tears when she relayed the account to me a bit later. “Kids have no school today.” she grieved. “I wonder if they even know why?”
Moments later, I carried that question with me into my afternoon foray to my local Dunkin’ Donuts — where immediately I began grilling the teens manning the counter: “Do you know why you have no school today?”
“Veterans Day …”, they dutifully chimed.
“Do you know why that’s important?” was my follow-up.
They, at least verbally, affirmed to me they did, although at least one seemed bored with the subject, wanting immediately to change it.
So, there I was, standing safe and warm in one of my favorite places, having just shared a conversation with my beautiful wife in our lovely home, about to enjoy a great cup o’ joe — all possible, in momentous measure, because generations of men and women agreed to serve, train, spend time away from kith and kin, potentially putting themselves physically in harm’s way in order to defend and preserve America, freedom, security. My country, freedom, security.
Yeah, I’d say they’ve earned one day a year of overt, focused acknowledgement; actually, a whole lot more than that. How about we start with scrubbing the surreal rules of engagement that inexcusably endanger our warriors? Or building a VA that extends to them the gold-plated prioritizing they deserve? President-elect Trump, are you listening?
I hail from a completely non-military background. Not anti-military, mind you; we were always taught to respect those in uniform — but decidedly non-military. My father was never drafted during the Vietnam era. While I was growing up, no one in my immediate family did any time under arms. My informational exposure to the culture of our fighting forces was chiefly limited to what I read in Tom Clancy or Fredrick Forsythe novels and the like (or the occasional comment by my former-Marine father-in-law). Martial life remained a fascinating, if somewhat mysterious reality to me, but that’s all — that is until my sixteen-year-old son, on the heels of 9/11, fixed his sights on becoming a US Marine; a feat, indeed, he accomplished a few years later.
That provided my baptism of armed-forces fire.
His younger brother, after noodling around directionless for a few months following high school, then followed in his leatherneck siblings’ bootsteps. My two boys’ Parris Island graduations rank among the most stirring, exciting events in my previously military-oblivious existence. My eldest went on to complete two tours in Iraq; infantryman. The other spent months firing artillery in the scorching frontiers of Afghanistan.
No surprise, I’ve developed an entirely new, unalterably personal respect for America’s military personnel.
I was flying cross-country the other day, seated next to a cammy-decked army logistics serviceman. I thanked him for doing his part to sustain our country. As we chatted, he expressed some discomfort with those who explicitly single him out for appreciation — his life had never been imperiled on the front lines (although he’d volunteered for such duty), so he didn’t feel particularly worthy of public encomia.
I patted him on the shoulder, reminding him each individual serving our national security plays his role, does her part, they all matter. He was going to have to get over his uneasiness because those accolades were going to keep coming; as they should. Because, while indisputably true these fine folks benefit from vocal expressions of solidarity, so does the Republic across the board. If Americans ever fully lose the patriotic impulse to give props to those tasked with protecting us from “enemies foreign domestic”? We’re cooked as a nation. Intentionally extending recognition to our military might do civilians as much good as it brings to those who are its object.
I’m hoping my message was driven home to him.
So, post-Veterans Day let’s remember there’s also: Military Spouse Appreciation Day (May), Children of Fallen Patriots Day (May), Armed Forces Day (May), Memorial Day (May), Army Birthday (June 14), Coast Guard Birthday (August 4), Purple Heart Day ( August 7), Air Force Birthday (September 18), Navy Birthday (October 13), National Day of the Deployed (October 26), Military Family Month (November), Marine Corps Birthday (November 10), Veterans Day (November 11), Pearl Harbor Day (December 7), National Guard Birthday (December 13).
Oh, yeah: and every day in-between.
Make it a point to expressly let our military peeps, current and former, know you’re genuinely grateful for their service, their sacrifice. If they imply the attention disconcerts them, ignore it and thank them anyway. All year long.
Image: ID:370059152; Copyright: Niyazz; shutterstock