Thursday, November 11, 2010

A day to remember all my blessings

Today is Veteran’s Day, a day that we as a country have set aside to honor the men and women who sacrifice so much to serve and defend our country. Both my grandpas served in the armed forces—one in the Navy and one in the Air Force. My dad served in the U.S. Army for five years. I also have a great-great uncle who died in World War II, weeks before the war ended. Veteran’s Day is always a significant day for my family.

Yesterday and today, I went with my dad to two different Veteran’s Day assemblies at each of my brother’s schools. Yesterday was the Veteran’s breakfast at Bishop Lynch. I was my dad’s “plus one” and got to enjoy some eggs, bacon and cheesy potatoes, as well as some stellar choir performances. A man who was in the Army and stationed in the Middle East during Desert Shield and Desert Storm gave a very detailed account of his experiences in the military and overseas. In addition to the choir singing several patriotic themed songs, the BL band played a medley of each branch of the armed forces’ songs. As each song was played, people stood up for their respective branch. It was incredibly moving to see the range in ages and people who stood up throughout the medley. I also got a chuckle out of the slightly stooped, elderly man bopping around in time to “Anchors Aweigh.”

Today my dad and I went to St. Paul for their Veteran’s Day parade and assembly. Our primary impetus for going was the fact that my brother, Will had won third place in the school’s Veteran’s Day essay contest and he and the two other contest winners were to read their essays at the assembly. Before the essay reading, however, a motley crew of elderly veterans each stood up and introduced themselves, telling us their names, when and where they served and in which branch. Then two men gave accounts of their experiences during World War II and Vietnam.
Once all the reminiscing was over, the eighth graders read their essays. The prompt: Is patriotism still important? They were all very well written and insightful. However, not to be disloyal to my brother, but the eighth grade girl’s essay was my favorite. Her essay was simple and concise and very moving. She discussed how for much of her childhood, her patriotism had been like her religion—something she’d been born into and had not really ever decided for herself. As she has gotten older and learned more, however, both of these things have become more conscious choices for her and she has begun to take new pride in her country. In her essay, the girl recalled going to the airport with her family at Christmastime to greet troops returning to the States from overseas. In particular, she remembered seeing a soldier coming home to his young wife, toddler son and newborn baby—a baby he was meeting for the first time. This family, she wrote, is the epitome of patriotism. She realized just how much these brave men and women and their families sacrifice again and again in order to defend their country. They give up holidays with family, first days of school, watching their children grow up, seeing their children born. It also their families and loved ones, however, who get them through long, strenuous and dusty tours overseas. If you know me at all, I’m sure it will not come as a surprise that by the end of this eighth grader’s essay, I was crying.

I think far too often, many of us take for granted just how extraordinary our country is. We don’t often think about the many freedoms we have. We don’t often appreciate how unusually and wonderfully diverse a people we are. And we certainly do not often enough stop to appreciate and thank the veterans and soldiers who have made our home and lifestyle possible.
Today my dad wore a shirt that said, “Home of the free because of the brave” and it had each of the seals for each branch of the armed forces. When we were in Starbucks this morning, a woman came up to him, thanked him for serving and shook his hand. He was caught completely by surprise, but the encounter made his day.

So the next time you see a veteran or maybe even someone who is on active duty, thank them; express your appreciation. Maybe you’ll make their day.

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