For an hour this afternoon I sat on the hard bleachers of our high school gym listening to speeches by high school students, patriotic music from the elementary school choir and high school band, and tales of heroism and service summed up in thirty words or less for dozens of area veterans showcased in folding seats of honor on the gym floor. Each is honored individually and given a carnation - a small token in consideration of their sacrifice, but, sadly, probably more than they get the rest of the year.
This is one thing our small district does right, and each year I'm so impressed by the program, organized by students, and by the respect that the students crowding into the bleachers across from me show the veterans and the speakers.
Something brings me to tears each time. This year it was a speech given by a student whose Marine father was killed in Iraq three years ago. She eloquently described the challenges of growing up with a patriotic, demanding Marine father (ever see "The Great Santini" with Robert Duvall?), and the difficult transition from military to civilian life after his death. This girl has a future as a writer, that's for sure.
Another student, on ordinary days dressed in tight skater jeans, today wore a new suit and quoted both Robert E. Lee and Winston Churchill. And yet another told the story of her grandfather who was killed in the Viet Nam War, on a mission that he knew he probably wouldn't survive.
Each year the band plays the Armed Forces Salute - the veterans stand during their respective branch's song while we all applaud. Taps, today played by a fourteen-year-old redhead, brings the program to a close, and signals the guests to move to the foyer for refreshments served by more students.
That's what I like most about this - the students and veterans coming together for a moment - the students having a chance to see beyond the gray hair, potbelly, or cane of the veterans, and realize they were young once, too. For their part, the veterans get a chance to see the students in their world, see that the future is in good hands...hands and minds that won't forget the sacrifices that were made to retain the freedom we all enjoy.
Each year I think, Dang it, I should have gotten my dad or Tom or his dad to be here today. My dad was in the Navy; Tom was in the Coast Guard; his dad was career Air Force, along with three of Tom's brothers. Another brother was also Coast Guard and one Army Reserves. Both of my brothers are veterans - one Navy, one Army. Two nephews were in the Navy; Tom's godson - another Tom Shallue - is an officer in the Air Force, his sister is enlisted, and their cousin is in the Coast Guard.
I'm ashamed to say I never tell them thank you. I never think of it until Veteran's Day, and I think most of us are that way. Good thing we have a special day to remind us.
What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hears with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world...Robert E. Lee
Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events...Winston Churchill