Today is Veteran's Day. It is the day when we are supposed to express our gratitude for those men and women who helped defend our country over the decades. Or, as most American children call it, that day that we get off from school right before Thanksgiving. Veteran's Day almost was a lost holiday a few years ago - until the current efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq began. I remember it coming and going without much of a peep. That's why I wrote that article at FBCTT for Memorial Day one year. No one else was doing it and I thought it needed to be done.
Veteran's Day and Memorial Day are very important to me. As some of you know, my father served as a Marine. He fought in the Korean War and was wounded. He carried those wounds every day of his life after that. Now he is buried in a beautiful Veteran's Cemetery in Vermont. I think of all the things my father did in his life, the thing I was the most proud of was his service to his country. He was always a good worker and made his way up the ladder at the Post Office. But none of that compared to the fact that he was a soldier. He had a Purple Heart.
He never talked much about the war. He would sometimes tell stories about things - usually with the enhancements that made him such an amazing storyteller. But it was hard to get information about Korea out of him. I remember doing a paper in ninth grade on the War, hoping to use him as a source. He didn't want to do it. I think it was too much. My father had that tough streak, refusing to admit fear. And I think that Korea was just months of pure fear. I can see why. I have David Halberstam's amazing Korean War book - The Coldest Winter. Halberstam is one of my favorite writers, but I can only read small chunks at a time. The reality of that horrific war comes through so clearly that it is hard to stomach - knowing my dad was there makes it even harder.
Sometimes it was hard to match the image of my father as I knew him with the picture of him as a young Marine. Sure, the temper part I could picture. But he didn't seem a soldier type. He didn't run his home like some former military guys - where they treat their kids like little soldiers. In fact, the mental picture I had of a soldier seemed almost opposite of my dad. But, the facts don't lie. His Marine picture sat on our shelf. The Marine Corps memorabilia was all over the house. There was the Purple Heart pins, the old patches and awards. The newspaper clippings. And there was his hand.
Any time I doubted, I just had to look at his hand. When he landed in Korea, he got there in the summer. As he said, "When I got there, it was so hot that the jeeps wouldn't run right because they overheated. When I left, it was so cold the jeeps wouldn't run right because they froze up." He landed at the Pusan Perimeter, when the South Korean forces were about to be run into the ocean. As the US assisted Korean forces, they marched further and further North, finally crossing into China. At the battle for the Chosin Reservoir, the Marines found themselves fighting both North Korean and Chinese forces. They were outnumbered at least 8 to 1. This is where my father was wounded. In the extreme cold, he was shot in the hand. The below freezing temperatures quickly affected his fingers. By the time he got to a surgeon, he had to have the top joint of each finger amputated.
So he had this hand without fingernails, just nubs on the top. There were some things that he had trouble doing - like opening some bottles and packages. But there was a constant testimony of just how great his sacrifice was. I was proud of that hand. I was proud of what he had done. My father had answered the call and put himself on the line for others. I'm not sure why that was such a big deal to me. Maybe it was because that valiant quality was not very obvious by the time I came along. He wasn't a man who defended the weak or protected others. In fact, there were many times when he took advantage of the weak and failed to protect those very people he should have. He wasn't a hero - but he had been once upon a time.
That is the thing about soldiers. They are just ordinary people. And they are asked to perform in a way that is the exact opposite of how a normal person lives. Instead of fleeing danger, they are supposed to go towards it and neutralize it. Instead of putting their own interests and survival first, they are supposed to defend nameless faces at their own risk. We are told not to allow violence to run our lives, but they have to live a violent life. We are told not to fight, but they have to fight every day. We are told not to kill, but they must accept that killing is a fact of their mission. They have to put their own lives on hold so we don't have to.
I have friends that are serving right now. A man that was a student at USF when I worked there is now a chaplain overseas. His wife is expecting their second child next week. He won't be home until the baby is a month old. A woman that was a student at USF when I worked there is now serving in the Army in the Middle East. Her husband, another former student, is living alone down in Melbourne, FL while she serves. Another former student has watched his father pulled into Reserve Duty as a logistics officer. What was once a "one weekend a month" position is now a "going on eight years" job.
I couldn't do it. I know I couldn't. That is why I admire them so. They do what I can't and won't - and they do it so I don't have to. They fight for me, protecting what I hold so dear. Whether or not you agree with the US presence anywhere in the world, you have to appreciate what our soldiers do each day. And as we found out in Fort Hood last week, being a soldier doesn't mean you are only in danger when deployed. Being a soldier means you are always a target - a representative of our country. You take a risk every day.
So what do we do on Veteran's Day and Memorial Day and July 4? I think that we need to make a special effort on those days to go out of our way to make those who served feel special. I wrote emails and Facebook posts this morning, thanking those serving. Make sure your kids understand exactly what today means. My kids know that today we pray for those who are fighting. They know about our friends overseas and ask about them. They draw pictures for them and pray for them. But we do that all the time. I point out soldiers (and police officers) to the kids and tell them we should thank them. I remember when I worked at Apple and we had a military person come in. I would always thank them - and make sure they got the military discount even if they didn't ask for it. They were always kind of surprised. But I did it every time, because they deserve it.
It is kind of like how we should be thankful every day, but on Thanksgiving make a very visible and vocal demonstration of our thanks. I think that is how we should be with our fighting men and women. Every day we should be appreciative. But on those few special days, go out of your way. Pay for their dinner if you see them in a restaurant. Applaud them when you see them. Send them a card or an email. How would you treat a person who saved your life, especially on the anniversary of the day it happened? Maybe that would be a good start. Because they did, you know. They saved your life and are saving it every day.
John Scanlon. Heather Schmidt. Glen Kitzman. Matthew Creviston. Buddy Joca. Stephen Orf. Cobie Lee. Jack Stultz. Mark Flach. Sherri Flach. Kevin Sheridan. Larry Cortez. Steve Vaughan. Sam Glenn. Scott Evans. Stanley Puckett. Dad. And any other that I don't remember or know right now. Thank you so much for all you have done and are doing. One day doesn't seem like enough to say that.