I remember the bugler playing Taps and the rifle salute as they laid my dad’s brother Sam to rest. I was about ten years old and my dad explained that the bugle and the guns and the flag over his coffin was because Uncle Sam had been a Navy pilot during World War II. It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned that Sam had been a happy go lucky young man with a pretty new bride when he joined the service, but by war’s end he had gotten a Dear John letter and came home a different person. Dad said he didn’t know if it was the wife or the war that changed him, but for the rest of his life Sam was a quiet loner given to strong drink, who seldom smiled and never laughed.
I remember the medals my dad and my other uncles kept tucked away in cigar boxes or dresser drawers. They seldom talked about their war experiences, but they flew their flags and joined the VFW and the American Legion, and sometimes they’d sit at the kitchen table with their beer and talk quietly. Whenever the kids or women came around, they grew quiet.
I remember the principal coming over the PA system when I was a freshman in high school to tell us that Mark Bauman, who had graduated the year before, had been killed in action in Vietnam. Most of us new kids didn’t have any idea who he was, but I saw tears in the eyes of several of our teachers that day. As the next four years went by, there were more announcements and more tears.
I remember some of my classmates talking about going to Canada rather than being willing to fight in a war they did not believe in, and others who couldn’t wait to graduate and enlist.
I remember my drill instructor telling us the first day of basic training that he was going to ride us long and hard for the next eight weeks, because he would rather we had a red ass than a Purple Heart.
I remember the terror of the first firefight I was in, and the second, and the third, and all the others. I remember friends who had to grow up way too fast, and other friends who never got to grow up.
I remember coming home and being assigned as a funeral escort, and more bugles playing Taps and more gun salutes and more flags over more coffins. I remember fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers and wives who looked at me and wondered why it was their son or brother or husband in that box and not me. I remember wondering the same thing myself.
I don’t need today to remind me that we are a free nation only because for centuries young American men and women have left their homes and families and answered the call. I don’t need today to remind me that a lot of them never made it home, and a lot more came home maimed in body and wounded in mind. I don’t need today to remind me that for many, their war may be over but their suffering never ends.
I remember every day.
Thought For The Day – A veteran, whether active duty, retired, National Guard or Reserve, is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to "The United States of America," for any amount of "up to and including their life."