A Letter to Those Who Serve
Dear Veterans, Active Duty Members, Reservists, Guard members:
It has now become a cliché of sorts, to say, “Thank you for your service”. Nice people, well-meaning people say it a lot. It’s even a movie title now.
Personally, I kind of like it, unless it is delivered mechanically. Sometimes I feel a little silly, because my service was rather unimpressive in that I never flew jets, didn’t capture a war criminal, never saw battle, and the closest I ever came to getting a Purple Heart was when I tried to change the ribbon on my IBM Selectric Typewriter and cut my finger. And that was not close at all.
But I am proud of my four years with the United States Air Force. It taught me discipline, gave me some lifelong friends, paid for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, helped me get a home, and underscored my undying love for this country we have been blessed to live in and serve.
Yes, I get a little misty eyed when Lee Greenwood belts out, “God Bless the USA” at the 4th of July. And certainly, it annoys me, even angers me sometimes, to watch highly-compensated athletes take a knee during our national anthem. Truthfully, I just don’t like that at all, because of all that the flag and anthem means to me and others who have served. While I quietly see red in my head during the “protest”, and wish that the athletes would instead lock arms and stand together before the Colors are presented and the anthem begins, I support their right to do so, as long as they understand that there will be blowback. Some of you won’t like that, I know, and I respect. Like me, you might rather see them take their millions of dollars and celebrity, go back into their neighborhoods, and serve as great role models to kids that seldom see any. But I grudgingly support their right to do so, because that is what you fought for, served for, and have even died for. Freedom. The freedom to worship, or not, the freedom to speak out and protest peacefully, but like the old saying, “Your right to swing your fist stops short of my nose”, don’t push your luck.
Willie Nelson sang, “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” Mine have been veterans. My father was a Marine who fought in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II – Guadalcanal in the South Pacific. His mother signed him into the Marines at age 16 because she didn’t want to disrupt her potential movie career in silent films. He was in combat just a few months past his 17th birthday. The effects of war stayed with him until he passed in 1987, yet he tried and most often succeed in being a good father.
Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” is one of my favorite books, because what we asked of them was preposterous, yet they succeeded in winning the “War to End All Wars.”
I wonder if there are justifiable wars still to be fought, and suspect there are, because evil exists. But I know the “next generation” stepped up to the task in Korea, Viet Nam, the Persian Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, and skirmishes around the globe, and made their veteran forbearers proud.
It is, as you know, called duty.
A few years ago, I was honored to help line up veterans to participate in the Homer Davenport Parade. Over 80 participated. I remember Carl Reed was there, proud to be honored and humbled to be recognized as a hero. I remember Art Gregg being there, riding in a convertible and waving to the crowd. They were part of the small contingent of WWII vets still around. One cute little guy, still fitting into and wearing his Army uniform, told me, “This is the greatest day of my life. I’ve never been in a parade.” That hit me hard.
I’ve met vets with one leg and vets with no legs. I’ve met Shirley, a Korean vet with a cantankerous smile and love for life. I’ve talked to old vets, new vets, active duty, National Guard folks, and members of every branch. I’ve seen a lot of PTSD.
I’ve seen a relative go to war in Bagdad as a 21 one year old who relaxed in one of Saddam Hussein’s gold bath tubs after the thug’s regime fell, and come home with some of the demons of war. We pray that he makes his way back, as the streets can be cold this time of year.
I love you all. It doesn’t matter to me, a guy who made sure you got paid and had your personnel records updated in case someone needed your parents’ address to deliver the worst news a parent could ever fathom. I am a Viet Nam Era vet, meaning I served during the Viet Nam War but never saw Viet Nam except through Walter Cronkite’s eyes and voice on the evening news. I did load fake planes during mobility exercises with fake weapons and supplies, to practice in case our guys and gals were deployed, and qualified as an expert marksman, just in case.
But you served, or are serving. You may have been an orderly in the hospital or a Medal of Honor winner in the fields of Normandy. It doesn’t matter to me what you did, because not everyone can be a combat helicopter pilot or Navy Seal.
But you served or are serving. And if you did so or are doing so honorably, let me say two things – I love you for that, and thank you.
Licensed Broker in The State of Oregon
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