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.
My husband Tom was raised in a 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.
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 this sad week at Ft. Hood.
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, Kenny, Steve, Joe, Robbie, John, Sheila, Michael, Tom, Lynn, Robbin, Evan...and all of the other Veterans out there!