A few years ago, I attended a Veteran’s Day celebration at a ranch in Highland Village. Although I had been present at many other such events in years past, this one struck me as particularly poignant. Perhaps it began when a silver-haired man was helped to his feet by someone sitting next to him. I watched his hands shake slightly as he held the microphone and said a few words about his service to his country, before handing the device to the next person at the table. It soon became apparent that the room was filled wall-to-wall with our nation’s heroes. From every branch of the service and from World War II, through the Iraqi war, these men and women were being honored for their proud and valiant service to their country. Some struggled and were barely able to stand, others spoke from wheelchairs, and still others balanced themselves on canes. They spoke softly, but eloquently, of the contribution they made to America’s ongoing fight against tyranny.
Sprinkled throughout the huge room, one could see the neatly pressed uniforms and the multi-colored ribbons and medals representing the wide range of military service. Some were given special recognition in an awards ceremony hosted by Congressman Michael Burgess, but anyone could plainly see that they were all very special. I must frankly admit that when I saw the microphone being handed to someone at the first table, my thought was that it would be a long afternoon. Yet, as I stood there watching and listening to those who had sacrificed so much for me and mine, I felt ashamed of my impatience and humbled by the courage and dignity of so many who gave so much.
I don’t know how many times I choked up as I witnessed this gathering of eagles, but my vision seemed blurry at times as the water accumulated within. Others were similarly moved as fluffy tissues and rumpled handkerchiefs became a significant part of the landscape. I saw the city’s mayor, Dianne Costa, wipe away tears several times. This proudly patriotic mother of two sons serving in Iraq, one of whom had recently returned, is but one example of the true grit in the genetic code that has made this nation the envy of the world. Former Mayor Bill Lawrence was present, a paragon of military bearing in his Air Force Colonel uniform.
Colonel Lawrence spent 8-years on active duty and another 22 years in the Air Force Reserve. Pat Branaugh, owner of a local business, stood up and quietly spoke of his service in Vietnam. Local resident, Rick Cleland, attired in his white Marine Corps Captain uniform, briefly related his Vietnam service and the Battle of Hue City. The assemblage contained people from all walks of life; people who paid their dues in ways the rest of us can’t even imagine. Yet, they don’t strut or boast, even though they’ve earned the right. Instead, comfortable in their skin and fully aware of their capability, they don’t feel the need to impress anyone.
We often hear opinions from armchair warriors about how battles should be fought. We watch as political candidates pontificate about military strategy as they vie for votes during an election cycle. But Veterans’ Day is not about politics. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents love this country equally. Sadly, in their quest for power, many tend to forget what their blind ambition does to the soldier, the sailor, the marine. These brave men and women must deal with a brutal and ruthless enemy on a battlefield thousands of miles away, while simultaneously dealing with the insensitive calumny of the very people they are risking life and limb for back home.
One of the saddest eras in our history occurred when the Vietnam veterans returned home to the country for which they fought, only to be met by vicious attacks from those unworthy to shine their shoes. It was a time when draft-dodging cowards and flag-burning cretins dominated the headlines and began shoving this nation over the abyss. Well, we’ve come a long way since then, but we must never forget how ugly an ungrateful nation can be. It’s been said that no one loves peace more than a combat veteran. Perhaps that’s because they have tasted the blood of battle, have smelled the burning flesh of their comrades, have heard their anguished screams and have seen the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man. Yet, as Colonel Lawrence said during his closing comments, “It is the soldier, not the journalist, who guarantees freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the student protestor, who guarantees freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the politician, who guarantees the freedom to vote.” Please give some thought to that on Monday; it’s Veterans’ Day.