Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Who do you know that served in the Armed Forces? Most of us know one, if not more, veterans.

We work with them, we worship with them, we may even visit them if they’re in our family.

In my family, there are three veterans I’d like to tell you about.

The first is my father, Stan.

He’s one who was part of what Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation in his 1998 book of the same title.

Dad is one of those who volunteered to join the United States Navy when he was really too young to enlist. But, seeing the dangers from the Nazis and the damage that our then-enemies, the Japanese did to Pearl Harbor, he felt both compelled and impelled to do his part.

I’m really grateful that dad never saw action. He sure saw the results of the horrors of war, but he always seemed to be on a ship far from any battles. I know he would have fought heroically had he been “in it”, but he wasn’t.

He returned home to his hometown of Ely, Nevada, and later moved with his parents and siblings to Salt Lake City, Utah. He met a young lady who captured his heart while parking cars across the street from the fairgrounds, settled down and with mom, raised eight children.

The second veteran I’d like to introduce you to is my oldest brother, Danny.

He grew up at a time of post-war peace, but later had to endure greater turmoil in America. When the Vietnam War was just coming to the forefront of the American news, Danny joined. Like dad, he volunteered.

He signed up to be a paratrooper, and decided it would be a good idea to go to a local Utah jump ground to see what it was all about. He and his friends watched in terror as a woman plunged to her death because her chute didn’t function properly. Yet, somehow, he steeled himself and still went on to do his duty.

Some of the stories Danny has told me over the years make me realize that war is anything but a two-hour movie on the silver screen. No matter if it’s M*A*S*H or Saving Private Ryan, there is no way the actual repugnance, dread or emotional scarring war can force upon a warrior.

When he returned home, things were much different for him than for other veterans, past and future.

There were no parades.

There was no fanfare.

There was spitting.

There was cursing.

There were horrible names hurled at them as if those who used them had actually been there to experienced the appalling conditions of war, themselves.

Vietnam Vets even had to deal with infamous celebrities like Jane Fonda speaking in traitorous terms about them and their service to their country.

The third Veteran I’d like to tell you about is my cousin, Steve.

He also served in Vietnam, as a US Marine.

Danny, who was in the Army, doesn’t like to think about it much, but once when Steve was home on leave, they along with Steve’s twin brother went up into the canyons to get away from it all and relax.

During that trip, Steve got Danny alone and they shared horror stories. Steve wanted to go AWOL and head to Canada. He wanted no more part of a war that was so unpopular with his fellow Americans. He just didn’t feel right. And, he wondered, what would happen to his family if he was killed and his twin brother survived? How could you put a family through that?

Although I firmly believe it was Steve’s ultimate decision to return to his unit on time and get shipped back to the unfriendly Vietnam jungles, Danny is convinced it’s his fault he returned.

I was very young at the time, 4 or 5, if memory serves. Steve’s was the first funeral I remember attending.

There was a glass lid on his coffin, and Danny stood guard in his dress uniform. He proudly did his duty then, too. I cannot begin to imagine the conflicting thoughts and emotions that must have churned inside of him.

After the funeral, Danny returned back to Vietnam, too. He later returned to acrimony and outright hate. It’s taken him these many years to find normalcy in life again. Back then, mental health issues were considered a weakness and many vets, including Danny, were left to fight their demons largely on their own. Taking advantage of mental health services was just not something you didn’t take advantage of.

Because of the experiences of my father, brother and cousin, I have mixed feelings about war itself. I realize now, more than ever, that war is complicated. There are ideals and forces at work that I don’t completely understand.

There is one thing, however, that is crystal clear to me:

Veterans deserve our utmost respect, admiration and devotion.

When a Sailor, Soldier, Airman Marine, National Guardsman or Coast Guardsman puts themselves in harms way so that people like me don’t have to, we owe them.

They did what they were told. They did it because, whether or not the conflict was right, they had a duty to do, and they did it.

So, here’s today’s challenge:

Find a veteran and say, “Thank you for serving your country and for protecting me.”

Of all the veterans I know, not one of them would want or accept more than that.

A simple thank you will let them know you care.

To the veterans of all wars, conflicts and police actions for the past two-hundred plus years – including the war on terror our country fights now, please allow me to end this with a personal note.

Thank you.

Thank you for serving your country.

Thank you for being willing to put your life, limbs, emotions, mental health and all else in harms way so that I don’t have to.

I appreciate you.

Carry on.
And, remember, Service is the Action Form of Love!


1 comment:

cathy said...

Wonderful thoughts, beautifully said.