Today's a day when I think back through generations of family members to all those who served our country through either the Air Force or Army. My uncle, dad, four brothers, father-in-law; and closer to home--my wonderful husband, Nick.
We were in college when his dad showed up on campus one day, waving a long white envelope. "You've been drafted!"
Some of you will be too young to remember or understand the meaning of a draft, but to us it meant he had to drop everything and head off to basic training, which took him several hours from home. A draft notice did not arrive with a polite RSVP.
Later, towards the end of his advanced training period, Uncle Sam presented Nick's entire batallion with a special invitation to the Vietnam war (which was officially referred to as just a "conflict"). One night shortly after receiving his 'nam orders, their unit was training in preparation for deployment. The sky suddenly lit up like fireworks, and flares began falling all around them. A militant group who had stolen and stashed weapons in the hills surrounding the military base had launched a protest by firing live rounds on our men. Nick dove for cover, and several others followed. Unfortunately, that dive took them down a cliff, where he was badly injured.
I remember visiting him in the hospital, where he spent the next 4 1/2 months wrapped in a body cast from chest to knees. A long hook hung from the ceiling above his bed, and when he wanted to move, he would reach for it and swing himself around. It was a depressing time for him, especially as he said goodbye to all his friends who were deploying to Vietnam.
As it turned out, only a couple of his original training group survived that ugly war.
Veteran's Day and Memorial Day are especially meaningful to us. It still bothers Nick to think of all the young men who were lost in that faraway conflict--men who had become fast friends. In the past few years, we've visited the traveling Vietnam Wall twice. Both times, Nick searched for the names of his buddies, and left copies of yellowed newspaper clippings and pictures of those young men who laid down their lives far from home and family. And yes--he has wondered through the years why God spared his life through a freak accident that prevented him from joining the others on that plane to 'nam.
We ended up spending 21 years in the military and it was a great adventure. Our children got to see regions of the world they might never have had the opportunity to visit. When Nick received a state award last year for his military service, I was prouder than ever of his patriotism and his service.
Over a ways to my right stood a young woman who was weeping. Her husband had died in Iraq, and she'd received a posthumous medal for him. I couldn't just stand there. I stepped over and silently hugged her. Sometimes words just aren't necessary.
Hug a veteran today. Thank him or her for their service. You'd be surprised how many of them are shouldering silent burdens that nobody suspects.