While I have attended a few Veteran’s Day ceremonies over the years cheering on the old veterans as they marched by, yesterday was the first time I ever participated as one of those old veterans.
And let me tell you I never knew what a wonderful thing I was missing.
Each year my son’s middle-school puts on a belated ceremony so that it doesn’t conflict with the one the town throws on November 11th, and while loving wife, also a vet, has always attended, I’ve always been out-of-town when it happened.
Well, yesterday I was in town and here’s how it went.
First the entire school shows up – several hundred middle school kids from 5th to 8th grades – along with parents and siblings and teachers and of course the honored guests. The band and choir are down on the gym floor and the students and the rest of the audience are up in the bleachers with the veterans in seats of honor down to the side so they can face both the entertainment and the crowd.
Colorful posters drawn by students decorate the walls with words of thanks and as the ceremony begins the Boy Scouts post the colors.
The school band plays and the school choir sings. All wonderfully patriotic songs, of course, with the word God thrown in – dare I say it – liberally, throughout the program. And interspersed between the songs and music selected kids approach the microphone to tell the veterans and their proud parents what Veterans Day and the men and women who serve our country mean to them.
And it was these speeches that really got to me because you could tell that these kids had written them themselves. From their hearts. Each one having had a relative (or two or three) who had served or was serving now. Grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters. All remembered and celebrated by children who are barely teens at most.
It was great.
But the best speech was the one by the young Iraqi boy – born in that far-away country but now living here in our little county in Tennessee – who thanked America’s veterans for freeing his native land and making it safer than it was before. He said much more than that and very eloquently too, but frankly it was hard to take it all in what with my eyes welling-up and my trying to hide it from anyone who might be looking.
Of course it wasn’t over with all that.
Next it was time for the veterans to stand and introduce themselves to the crowd. And let me tell you we were a hodgepodge. We had both a Korean/Vietnam War Army vet and a WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War Air Force vet in their uniforms – the latter with an oxygen tank and walker – and we had Marines and Navy and an Army Nurse and then loving wife and I, two Air Force vets from the Cold War. And each one stood up and told a small part of their story for the kids and the crowd to truly thunderous rounds of applause.
It was all so very cool.
Of course loving wife stood and told her story which ended with her joking about marrying a veteran as well, and then my turn came and I stood and I swear never felt so humbled in my life. (Yes, TRO can be humble when it calls for it.)
And actually the first sentence out of my mouth was about how I felt humbled and honored to be in the presence of so many combat veterans, because while every veteran sacrifices during his or her service, some are called upon to sacrifice more than others, and some, the ones who weren’t sitting with us listening to school bands and choirs and speeches, have been called upon to sacrifice everything.
And while I am immensely grateful that the good people of my little part of the USA thanked me and loving wife and the otherveterans, I just have to take still another opportunity to thank the combat veterans who were called upon, and are still being called upon, to sacrifice more. Sometimes all.
Anyway, let’s not get all serious here, okay.
The main reason I am writing this is to recommend to all veterans that they attend and participate in these ceremonies. It doesn’t matter if you are a brand new veteran or if you served in combat or not. Every veteran is welcome.
And don’t wait until you are using a walker and carrying an oxygen tank to do so. Don’t worry about feeling that you don’t deserve it or that you might be accused of showing-off. You’re past proving yourself to anyone, my friend.
Do it because it is simply another service to your country and to your fellow citizens. Especially the children. Because they need to see you. They need to shake your hand and maybe even give you a hug. They need to hear your stories. They need to see the example of service and honor that you set and perhaps hollow it whether it takes them to the military or on some other path.
They need to thank you.