They are all around you, disguised as ordinary people. They may be generous or grouchy, quiet or boisterous, socialites or loners. They come in all colors, sizes, and ages. They are our veterans... those who gave anywhere from three to thirty years of their lives, doing whatever our country needed them to do, wherever they were told to go.
Tonight our church held a special dinner in their honor; at the end, each veteran was asked to give their name and tell a little about their service. I felt very humbled and grateful. My mind naturally drifted to those veterans I hold most dear, and I realized I hadn't yet published my annual tribute to them...
"Lord, if your people need me, I will not refuse the work. Your will be done."
~St. Martin of Tours
My big brother Buster was headed to Viet Nam, saying his goodbyes, when I stood beside him in this photograph and smiled. I had no idea what was ahead of him. This was probably taken before his first tour of duty and so he had only a vague idea himself what to expect.
When he volunteered for his second tour, however, he knew full well what he was stepping into...but he did it anyway.
My dad was in high school when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He joined the Navy soon after high school graduation because his country was at war and "it was the thing to do."
In the next twenty-two months he traveled a long way from Texas aboard the U.S.S. Geneva...to places like the Philippines, the Marshall Islands, China, Burma, Japan.
Before he turned twenty, he had seen cities that had been destroyed by war and piles of dead bodies waiting to be buried.
A few years later, his little brother Bobby followed his lead and joined the Navy, and many years later, so did my brother Donnie and two nephews.
Pop, my wonderful father-in-law, missed out on World War II, but joined the Air Force in time for the Korean War. He worked base supply in Okinawa, supporting bombers flying missions to Korea...about 100 aircraft every day.
He re-enlisted, got married, and hopped around the globe...living in England, Germany, and over a year in Pakistan, separated from his family (the other heroes - Mom had 8 teenage and younger boys to deal with by herself!)...visiting a dozen other countries...eventually staying put for awhile in Maryland, working with NSA (and a second job at the bowling alley to make ends meet), until his retirement.
A lifetime of service and sacrifice for this country.
My husband Tom was raised in that military family. For him it was normal to move every few years to someplace completely different...by the time he was eight or nine years old, he had lived in three countries!
He grew up on a tight budget ... hand-me-downs, powdered milk and only two cookies a day...period! And yet as soon as he could, he joined the service...the Coast Guard. Among other things, he helped rescue fisherman off the coast of Alaska.
Four of his brothers also joined the service (three career Air Force, just like their dad, and another Coast Guard) and the youngest joined the Army Reserves. Now the next generation is following in their footsteps: two Air Force and one Coast Guard, plus numerous cousins, nieces, and nephews.
I think it's very fitting that Veterans Day shares November with Thanksgiving, a day when we slow down to remember and be grateful for things that we usually take for granted, because veterans, despite the sacrifices they make for all of us, probably don't even make it onto our Thanksgiving thank-you list.
That's how much most of us take them for granted - as well as the freedoms they protect for us. Even when our country isn't at war, they go where they are needed to unfamiliar places, away from extended family, often living on a minimum salary.
To many, they are a symbol of war, not peace, and sadly become targets of derision, scorn, blame... and even violence, like the sad incident at Ft. Hood a few years ago.
They deserve to be thanked every day of the year. A friend of mine says that when he's in a restaurant and sees a man or woman in uniform, he secretly pays their bill. What a wonderful idea! I think more of us should go out of our way every day to show our appreciation, but I'm glad there is at least one special day where we shine a spotlight on them, remember their sacrifices and make clear our gratitude.
Thank you Daddy, Tom, Pop, Buster, Donnie, Uncle Bobby, Uncle Howard, Kenny, Steve, Joe, Robbie, John, Sheila, Michael, Tom, Lynn, Robbin, Evan, James...and all of the other Veterans, past and present, out there! Because of you, we're free to go about our daily lives, without a thought in the world to how much that freedom costs or how much you've given.
"Freedom is never free." ~Author Unknown
But let's hope we do remember the price, as well as those who, through their actions, say, "Don't worry. I got this."
Many at tonight's dinner brought up, with much pride, the current service of their sons and daughters, which reminded me of TG's boyfriend's Air Force graduation back in September. He's from a military family himself - his parents met while they were both in the Army. He's well aware of the commitment he's made.
So I'd like to thank TG's B and all of the others who are continuing to step up to fill those ranks for our country. I hope we all continue to show them the support they deserve.
"This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave."