"Today is Veterans Day. I never really did pay much attention to this day. My dad did. He was a Veteran."
When you enter my parents' home a letter sits within a red mat and a blue frame, is pressed beneath clear glass and rests on the center wall above a cross with a flag in its center. My father wrote this the first Veterans' day after his dad passed away. Throughout it he speaks about how when he and his siblings were sorting through their father's things after his passing they came across the history of his military career through his medals. My grandfather chose not to speak of war to his children. He would never speak of what he saw. The only thing my father ever said he told him was, "Too many of my friends died." From time to time as my father would come across a ribbon or a medal my grandpa would make up funny stories about what each meant - never near their true meaning. It was not until he was losing a horrible fight with cancer that my dad and his siblings saw the physical scars from the War on his failing and weak body. It was not until after his death that they found the multiple purple hearts and the four bronze stars he was awarded during the second world war. He had never mentioned them.
I loved my Grandfather. He meant more to me than any other grandparent - probably to anyone in the world. He was my best friend. I idolized him, climbing into his lap when it was free of any of the other multiple grandchildren and would remain there until my mom or dad would move me out. From him I developed my love for the Chicago Cubs - quite simply just because he loved them. The first time I entered Wrigley Field with my father many years ago - his father is the first face that came into my mind. I loved my Grandfather not because he was a retired Master Sergeant, not because he had been awarded medals, not because he had faced such horror of a war and survived, but because he was my daddy's dad. Hearing "Taps" played in the distance and holding my dad's hand as guns fired into the air at his funeral is one of my earliest memories. I still remember my body jumping with each shot and my dad never letting me go.
I have read this letter a countless number of times since it was written several years ago. I have always been raised to respect the military. My mother has always had tears in her eyes when she sees a service member. My father has always been the first to approach and shake the hand of a man or woman in uniform. Even so, even with reading my father's powerful words, I never paid much attention to this day.
As ashamed as I am to say this, it was not until I loved a soldier that I realized the vast importance of Veterans' Day. I had been raised to respect the military. And I always respected the uniform, because it was automatic. But I never appreciated the soldier. I never understood because it was never something tangible to me. It was not something I was involved in - which is not an excuse.
My husband and I have been very fortunate to meet Veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The WWII vets - even in their aged bodies - hold an incredible strength visible within them. You can see it in their eyes. They helped to change the course of history and they lived through it. The men that we have met have been the most supportive, most involved individuals when it comes to supporting our current troops. They back them - especially the Vietnam vets we have met. Every time I have been introduced to a veteran of either of those wars, I have been humbled beyond belief by the incredible support they show for my husband and his comrades. These men are incredible people and deserve to be thanked and remembered and honored on this day and every day.
My husband is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and will be of Operation Enduring Freedom. I do not know how much he will talk to our children about these. I do not believe he will ever talk seriously about Iraq to them. What he saw there was not something I believe he will talk about. He will talk about his friends, he will joke about how his patrols were attacked more than any other in the company (and he will only joke about it because he brought each man in his platoon home with him), joking about how he was considered the luckiest, unlucky PL (platoon leader) out there. But I do not think he will ever talk about what happened in between.
Nearly 13 years ago, at the age of 17, my husband signed a contract with this country. He signed a contract with you. He stood before all of us and swore to give of himself to protect against anything that attempts to harm this country. Something did and he went willingly into the fight. Months before his first deployment he became an officer and again he made a promise to you. His parents stood beside him, with greatest pride and overwhelming fear, as he raised his right hand and vowed:
"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."
"I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation."
One more time:
"I take this obligation freely."
Without reservation, these men and women have promised to give up to their lives to protect what this country is and should always be. This is beyond honorable. This is beyond absolute selflessness.
They do not do it for glory. My grandfather received four bronze stars and I know that he would be the first to say that there is no glory in war.
There is nothing more honorable, nothing more respect-worthy, nothing more deserving of deepest gratitude, than to serve this country.
I didn't understand that. It took loving a soldier to realize what no one could ever teach me.
In the words of my father:
"Today is Veterans' Day.
It is a very important day."
Yes, it is. Today is a very important day.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.