Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. It used to be, as I remember it, a very important day. But over the years, it has been relegated to minor parades and small cemetery ceremonies. I think that ought not be so. For to whom do we owe this country? Veterans.

I grew up with a veteran. My father was a vet of WWII and Korea. He was a submariner. He loved his country. We went to the parades on Veterans Day every year. I even remember marching in some of them with various civic groups. But the one thing that stands out in my mind, even after all of these years, is my father standing for every single American flag that passed by. Every one. He didn't stay seated. He didn't turn around and pretend it wasn't there. He stood and saluted.

When we would sit together as a family at these parades, my parents in their lawn chairs and me on the curb, I would notice a wistfulness in his eyes. His countenance changed when those flags marched by. As a child, I didn't understand. As an adult, I may not fully understand but I see. I see that same look in the eyes of The Greatest Generation.

On one forum recently, a poster stated that to be a hero was to do the courageous thing, think it nothing but their job, and be silent in honor of those who gave all. I'm thinking that might be true. You see, my father never spoke of his military service. Only once did I get a glimpse of that world when a PBS documentary came on about submariners. He spoke very little. We visited the USS Drum here in Alabama and went through the sub. Still, very little words were spoken. It was a humbling experience, nonetheless. My dad was silent.

Later, after he passed away, I started looking into his service. I remembered the name of a sub he was on. I found their reunion group. A few of the old sailors were still alive and remembered my father. One even had a drawing he did of my dad all those years ago. He had kept it and never knew why. Well, now we know. He was kind enough to send it to me. I found that he was a Plank Holder on that sub, one of the Mighty Mine Dodgers. They fought in the precarious, mine-filled waters off the coast of Japan. I am amazed at the strength my father had at such a young age.

But, when I consider that strength and remember the man who saluted every American flag he passed, I'm not surprised. He carried himself with honor and integrity his whole life. He was a walking picture of the quintessential American veteran: full of respect for his country and his countrymen.

And in honoring my father, I must say a word about my partner. She served almost 15 years in uniform. Fifteen months of that service was active duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Like other soldiers, sailors and Marines I've known, she carries that honor and integrity as a banner. She speaks of the fallen as the heroes. She simply did her job. But to me, she will always be a hero for her service. And it is this love of God and Country that drew me to her. She, like my father, loves America and that for which it stands.

And last, we must remember not only those who gave their lives, but those who have not returned home. How many of our beloved military personnel are still not repatriated? And what has our nation done to return them home? Yes, every now and again you hear of remains that are found and returned. But it is rare. And we hardly ever hear of them. I would hope that we would honor our commitment to them and work to ensure all of our soldiers are returned to the country for which they died.

My father's brother was killed in VietNam. My dad served in WWII and Korea. My partner's father served in VietNam and was career military. My partner served in OIF. Like other families, there is a long and wonderous military tradition that should be respected, honored and celebrated.

Let me close with this story: After my father passed away, I felt such a gut need to connect with him. I planned a vacation to Washington DC. I wanted to walk among the monuments to previous wars and soldiers. I wanted to experience this America for which my father would have offered himself to die. I wanted to see the VietNam Wall and find my uncle's name. I needed to walk Arlington National Cemetery and see my uncle's gravesite. I needed to pay my respects to all who gave so much so that I could live in the greatest country on the planet.

It was a most memorable visit. I went to all the places I wanted to see. I took etchings of my uncle Bobby's name on the wall and sent them to my father's two remaining brothers, one of whom served in the Navy during WWII. I bowed my head at the grave of my uncle. And all of these were life changing for me.

But the greatest touch of all came at the Tomb of the Unknowns. I couldn't help but think of the families whose loved ones were entombed there. For decades, these families have lived not knowing the fate of their loved ones. And, yet, there were here, celebrated and honored every hour of every day...rain, snow, sleet or shine. I stood in the heat and watched the changing of the guard. The preciseness of their movements, every step in honor of the fallen. I was moved by every click of the heels on their shoes. Every salute was so perfectly performed and timed. And it wasn't just the precise nature of it all. It was why the precise nature. Every movement, every salute, every step was there to honor a fallen comrade known only to God.

I can't say if people noticed the sweat pouring down my forehead. But I can tell you there were tears streaming down my cheeks. They were tears of gratitude for a country and for the men and women who have made it possible with their sacrifices. And today, you'll probably see a tear now and again as I remember why this holiday is so significant.

Please, take a moment this day to thank Goddess for men and women of strength, courage and honor who selflessly serve our great nation. And then thank a soldier for their service. Chances are they'll be self-effacing and point to those who gave all. But, please remind them that they are heroes, too.

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