Like I said, they’re mostly like the rest of us except for the fact that they’ve often been places they’d have rather not seen and done things they’d have rather not done.
The thing is, those who wore a uniform didn’t really have the option of saying “Sir, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather sit this one out.”
And, so, there were times when they ended up in some small corner of hell that’s now known only to them, the people they were with, and, if that corner of hell was important enough, to those willing to read history books.
As an example of that last, several years ago, there was a reunion taking place at a local hotel that was open to the public. The attendees were the "Kamikaze Survivors" - the men who'd fought the sea battle of Okinawa in April, 1945.
These men had served on the "picket line" - a group of destroyers and smaller ships stationed far from the main fleet. Their job was to provide early warning of any approaching aircraft.
During that battle, over 1900 suicide attacks were launched against our ships. These men lived through that and some were telling their stories. They told those stories as best they could but, often, they had to stop to compose themselves.
I’ve noticed that this is common among those who’ve been in battle. The memories that’ve been buried for years break through in the telling and the tears come unbidden.
More recently, I received a phone call from a local resident named Russ MacGilvray. He was on one of the ships that was hit during that battle. As a matter of fact, his battle station was just a few feet away from where the kamikaze struck and it’s nothing short of a miracle that he survived.
He’s invited me to meet and speak with him and I plan to do so because I’m a writer and he’s got a story to tell.
Which is true of any veteran. Wartime, peacetime, front line, rear echelon. They all have stories.
Memorial Day to many is simply the long weekend that kicks off summer. If there’s anything universally celebrated today, it probably has something to do with a sale.
Most of the veterans I know aren’t offended by this. They like the time off as much as anyone and they realize that those who’ve never worn a uniform have a tough time understanding what it was all about.
Not many who haven’t worn a uniform can fathom the loneliness, the boredom, the adrenaline rushes, the bladder and bowel loosening fear, the insane situations, the stupid stunts, the foolish regulations that are all part of the deal when you wear a uniform.
They can’t know what a simple thing like a letter from home can mean. What a hot shower and clean clothes can feel like or how a hot meal (made of just about anything) can taste.
Vets know all of this and, if you get a group of them together, you can sense the bond between them.
As for those who’ve been in combat, most never thought much about “giving their all” for their country. They simply cared about their friends and worried about letting them down. When they had to fight, they fought for those friends and, in so doing, often did things that were heroic.
No matter the branch. No matter the unit. No matter the period. They’re all called veterans. Many were volunteers. Others were drafted. They all served. They did what our government told them needed doing. And, in so doing, they’ve kept this country safe.
Ask them about it, however, and they’ll likely say that they were “only doing their job.”
Some job. Protecting a nation.
So, for just a moment today, think about them and what they’ve done. And, if you know one, simply say thanks.
They’re mostly a humble bunch and much more would likely embarrass them - even though we owe them far more than that simple but inadequate word.