In Thanking Veterans, Alum Speaks for a Grateful Nation

Last year, I watched the Naval Honor Guard stand watch over my father as “Taps” echoed across the cemetery.

One of the sailors then stepped forward to present me with the Stars and Stripes and to recite the requisite speech. Somewhere after “On behalf of the President,” my mind became a blur.

As I sat there, I wondered why I was hearing those words instead of my father. Why didn’t they tell him? Had anyone ever told him?

I believe every Veteran and those currently serving should hear the words “…a grateful nation” while they are still with us.

My family and friends have for years watched me approach veterans and active duty personnel alike at airports, at shopping malls, and at restaurants to say thanks for their service and sacrifice. I’ve suggested that it’s really all right for them to do the same—they won’t bite. I’ve greeted arriving troops at the airport as well, as my time allowed. But it never seemed enough.

And then recently, I received the call notifying me of my selection as a Guardian for Honor Flight. I was at once charged with the care of an endangered species: the World War II veteran. Honor Flight is fully deployed in a race against time—to take as many World War II veterans to visit their only-recently-opened memorial in Washington, D.C. An estimated 1,000 a day leave their post for the final time.

While I was excited and honored to be part of this massive undertaking, I was immediately struck by the awesome responsibility involved. I would only have a little more than 36 hours to help ensure that these heroes were certain of our appreciation for what they did for the country.

We would all be representing the American voice to convince them that we are deserving of their legacy; that their blood, toil, tears and sweat were not shed in vain; that we haven’t forgotten about their bravery; that we can speak German if we choose to, not because we’re forced to; that we can and will be good stewards of the blessings of liberty they had secured.

Sadly and ironically, I would also be representing part of what has become known as the Spoiled -Think Only of Themselves – Sense of Entitlement – Complaint generation; the spoils of the Greatest Generation’s war.

Maybe that we need to be reminded is testament to just how profound their collective act was. We have been spoiled with the gift of freedom. We don’t wake to the sound of tanks and soldiers on our streets. We come and go freely; speak and write freely; do and become freely. I have been privileged to have a career that I love, that I chose. It is because they did such a great job that we need to be reminded.

The title of this tribute could easily have been “Veterans Day—Not Just Another Sale at the Mall.” I’ve always thought it rather curious that a sale at the mall was somehow a way to show gratitude to our veterans on their day. But then I realized the mall is the iconic symbol of our capitalist system, our economic democracy which is the envy of the rest of the world, even if it’s not in vogue to admit it.

We became the economic superpower we are today only because of their bravery; because of their selflessness in putting our country’s future ahead of their own. We have more choices of more things in more places than any other country on Earth. We are the first to help other countries in need and give more to more.

So, upon further reflection, maybe the Veterans Day sale really is a gesture befitting our heroes. This Veterans Day, it’s okay to go to the mall, after showing your appreciation at the local parade. Our Veterans have made the world safe for democracy —and shopping.

I am looking forward to this mission. I am assigned to escort John and Joe Q. Veteran, with a combined 175 years of memories, history and wisdom. This teacher would be a student once more.

I know I will share tears with Veterans when they view the names on their Memorial. I expect to be overwhelmed by the sea of headstones at Arlington National, row after row, all at attention, each representing a piece of the freedom handed down.

Hooah!

Sincerely and respectfully,

“… A Grateful Nation”

 

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