When I was young, I had no real understanding of what the term "veteran" meant. However, I was proud that my grandfather was one- whatever it was. I remember seeing him all dressed up in his Navy uniform and thinking that it was an odd outfit for someone who worked with animals all day. Veteran and Veterinarian- same thing, right? To a small child, the concept was a bit over my head.
It wasn't until I was asked to interview a war veteran for a school project that I had any idea of what the term really meant. I know that there is a tape recording somewhere of me asking my grandfather question after question. He shared stories of traveling to Italy and northern Africa. I remember him telling me how he had some sort of motorcycle and the would drive around the beaches of Italy. He seemed to be enjoying the interview until, being the tactful child that I was, I asked him a question that shut him down in the blink of an eye. I asked him if he ever was in an actual combat situation. The conversation was quickly switched over to something ice cream related and I was so embarrassed that I never asked him about his war experience again.
As the years passed, my grandfather would share glimpses of his experience with us. He would point out places on his huge world map of where he had been deployed to. Every once in a while, he would pull out his USN pin or his hats for us to look at or use for a short-lived and supervised dress-up session. We would listen to the same select stories that he wanted to share... time and time again.
My sister and our grandfather.
A few years back, my grandfather was offered a spot in a program that was flying WWII vets to Washington, DC to visit the new monument. Since the majority of those that had served in WWII were getting older, they went all out to provide the experience to those who would appreciate the long overdue memorial. My grandfather told me that is was one of the best experiences of his life. I am so thankful that the Rotary club asked him to be part of the Triad Flight of Honor.
When my grandfather passed away last year, members of the local chapter of the American Legion attended his internment ceremony. As we drove up the hill to the mausoleum, we could see retired servicemen and women standing at attention. At the end of the service, one of the members presented my grandmother with a flag as a sign of gratitude for her husband's service to his country. We sat in the frigid marble room and listened as a single trumpeter played Taps. After the song was finished, they sent him home with a traditional 21-gun salute. It was one of the most powerful moments I have ever been a part of and I know he would have loved it.
This year, November 11th is not only Veterans Day, but it would have been my grandfather's 90th birthday. Today, please take the time to thank the veterans in your circle of friends and family. Let them know that no matter how long ago they served or in what capacity... that they are appreciated everyday, not just today.
I am forever indebted to the brave men and women that have served our country.
Happy Veterans Day!