When I was a kid, Veterans Day was a mix of somber acknowledgment and celebration, filled with parades and accolades. Growing up as a Navy Brat it was more than a day off of school, when the banks were closed and the mail didn’t arrive. More than the purchase of a red paper poppy from the increasingly older folks wearing Navy blue aircraft carrier ball-caps and a smile stationed at little tables outside your grocery store. On one military base where we lived, it was climbing up onto a gigantic amphibious vehicle with the aid of a strong man in green along with hordes of other wriggling kids for a ride around the base, flags waving at every light post. Gathering at the football stadium to watch the Marine color guard in full dress uniform bearing flags, swords at their hips, the only sound the solemn click, click, click of the drummer keeping pace behind them. When the flags were in place the band would march out, again, all in full dress uniform, instruments and spotless white gloves shining in the tropical sun, John Philip Sousa blasting its way into the very core of our beings, filling us with pride and strength, excitement.
When my father was stationed in Vietnam I was in first and second grades, with probably not much of a clue as to what was going on, except for maybe a nagging feeling of fear for my father, angst at his absence, resulting in a lot of drama from a certain spoiled 7-year old Daddy’s girl. With shame, I remember how I would howl with pain at missing him, crawl into my mom’s bed, (where apparently I kicked her in my sleep,) in retrospect feeling awful that I was so selfish and unable to imagine what my poor mother was feeling. We’d get letters from him and he’d tell me he’d give me a dollar for every A I got on my report cards, (I opened my first bank account with those dollars), to be a good girl for my mom, and to remember to brush my teeth, because the little kids over there didn’t brush well enough and had black teeth! (Something like that you remember 45 years later, I tell you!) At Christmas he sent silk pajamas for us all, my mom looking sexy and statuesque in the Vietnamese styling. Mine were pink and shiny, with a luxurious foreign feeling to them. To this day whenever my father starts to tell us a tale from back then, I sit enthralled and filled with wonder. Just by chance, he helped a woman deliver a baby in the shanties of Saigon. He went off on some secret mission that he wasn’t really supposed to be on, bringing back a Soviet rifle as a souvenir. He was living in a hotel that was bombed. And he wasn’t even a soldier—he was a behind-the-scenes man. I can’t even conceive the things he doesn’t tell us.
So, on this day, Veterans Day, I thank my father, my brother and brother-in-law, and all the other fathers, mothers, brothers, sister, sons and daughters who have served and are serving our country, whether by choice or not. Wartime or peacetime, I am grateful for your presence. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.