Today we honor and thank our Veterans, but this past Saturday my adopted hometown celebrated our local Service Men and Women. It was a ceremony I’ll not forget.
For many years I attended our Veterans’ Day parade – stood in the cold and rain some years, others in the sunshine and heat. But every year I teared up as the colors were presented and our national anthem was played, waved and said ‘thank you’ to the Veterans as they drove by with their military branch and years of service noted on their cars. And then I went home. I never followed the parade to the Amvets Hall to hear the tributes and the stories. That was a mistake.
This year the local Veteran’s Administration office reversed the order of the parade and ceremony. What a difference the switch made. Saturday was a gorgeous day so the ceremony was held outside on the lawn of our historic courthouse. Our county has three high schools and the number of ROTC members who are present at these events always amazes me. But they were there in full dress, standing at attention, bearing our flags. On one side facing the speaker’s podium were the WWII and Korean Conflict Veterans. On the other were the Viet Nam Veterans, who were being especially honored. Hubby remarked how old some of them looked – then realized he was the same age and looked just as old!
I was in junior and senior high during the Viet Nam Era. I had a P.O.W bracelet I wore faithfully until my soldier came home. I remember the stick figure soldiers in the newspaper representing the number of casualties. I caught glimpses of the news, saw the men slogging through rice paddies and fighting their way through jungles. I don’t remember talking about the war very much at home or at school.
On Saturday our state representative talked about the war, about the bravery of our soldiers, and the failure of our country to honor their service. Then each local Viet Nam Veteran was called by name and presented with a medal, a pin and a certificate. One disabled Veteran abandoned his scooter and took a slow walk to receive his pin. Several wore fatigues, still fit and trim. Others used canes but walked as straight as their bodies allowed. It took awhile to call the almost 100 honored men present to be recognized and thanked individually. Their camaraderie, back slapping, hand shaking and laughter didn’t detract from the reverence of the ceremony – it added to it.
I thought of my friend Angelo, living with a form of Lou Gehrig’s Disease from exposure to Agent Orange, and my friend Kevin, also a Veteran, and his work with our area’s homeless. I wondered how many of them should have been there being honored. During Taps and the 21 gun salute I remembered them, as well as those who died.
After the presentations we yelled ‘Welcome Home!’, sang a round of patriotic songs and found our way to the street to await the parade. Over a loudspeaker more patriotic music filled the air. During the parade as we thanked the Veterans, one answered back, “And I’d go back and do it all again in a heartbeat!”
Hubby caught me snapping a photo of people sitting on the wall that surrounds the lawn of the courthouse. “You know you have to get them to sign a release so you can use their picture.” “Nope. I only took the shadows.” They looked like shadow soldiers, still standing at attention, honoring those who came before, those who continue to serve, and waiting for those to come.
Today I think of my Uncle Roy who landed on the shores of Normandy and lived to tell about it – though he never would. He’d get tears in his eyes, say, “Kimmie, you don’t want to know.’ and grow quiet. I think about my Dad, a Korean Conflict Veteran. He doesn’t tell many stories either, mostly funny ones, but I have a snippet from my hometown newspaper from way back when Dad played softball and it was noted this would be his last game because he was leaving for Basic Training the next day. I think of my son, classmates, friends, Youth Ministry students who served or continue to serve. To all of them, Thank You.