Veterans Day, Duty, and Respect
One day is not nearly enough to celebrate our veterans. As I continue to honor them throughout this Thanksgiving season that, to me, starts with Veterans Day, I also think about their families who, in a very real sense, serve their country too.
My heart aches for the widow of a fighter pilot who died in a tragic accident several years ago off the coast of Japan. In her 20s and madly in love with the man of her dreams, she will never fully recover from her brokenness and loss.
I also think about the family of a pilot I know whose back suddenly blew out during a training exercise from G-forces exerted on him after nine years of flying. The force ruptured a disc and broke his spine. He’s undergone several surgeries and most likely will experience pain for the rest of his life. His wife and parents try to stay positive and encourage him, even as they struggle with the many challenges of his injury.
My thoughts turn to the wife and children of a Marine friend of ours who often travels to remote and dangerous places to recover the sacred remains of soldiers killed in battle, some as long ago as World War II. His work brings comfort to other military families who have suffered for generations, hoping and praying for closure over the disappearance of their loved ones. All the while, his own three-year-old daughter experiences severe emotional trauma each time her daddy leaves. She shrieks with terror anytime her mommy is out of sight for fear she will disappear too.
Then there’s the wife and 18-month-old son whose military husband and father is leaving for six months. When daddy leaves for shorter three-week exercises, the little guy doesn’t have any idea why daddy doesn’t walk through the door at the end of the day. There’s a reason why “Daddy” is part of the toddler’s limited vocabulary: He absolutely adores his father. But he’s too young to understand, even though his sweet mom tries to explain why Daddy isn’t there for breakfast or why he doesn’t show up to tuck him in at night. I wonder how the little one will cope when his dad vanishes next time for months on end.
The stories of sacrifice that military families make are endless. Thanksgiving and Christmas have a sense of emptiness, and birthdays are marred by tears as another year is marked by parental absence. For the older children, it’s even more difficult because they silently understand that mom or dad may never return.
As I contemplate the sons and daughters of those who serve, I marvel at how incredibly respectful their children are. This year I’ve had the honor to spend a lot of time on a military installation visiting family. Every morning the national anthem rings out across the base, and every evening at sunset the somber bugle call of retreat gently sails through the breeze. Each day, morning and evening, the children stop in their tracks, stand at attention, and place their hands on their hearts as they pay tribute to their country and to those who serve.
From the youngest of toddlers to the most jaded of teens, I’ve observed them participate in these tributes. I’ll never forget the eight-year-old I watched through my window one Saturday morning. He was on his scooter, barreling down the sidewalk with no one else in sight. On the very first note of the national anthem, he jumped off the scooter and landed at full attention, placing his hand over his heart in one swift motion. The child was thoughtful and patriotic even when he thought no one was watching. Why? Because his military parent had taught him to be so.
The children on the base are exceptionally polite and respectful upon every encounter. They always call out a greeting, look adults in the eye with confidence, say “please” and “thank you” and even “yes, ma'am” and “no, sir.” These military children are inspiring and will undoubtedly be among the leaders of their generation.
As we thank our veterans and their families for their many sacrifices, I also lift my glass in salute to them for contributing the vital elements of decency and honor to our society.
Thank you for instilling in your children — even though you have fewer hours to do it, even in the midst of a crass and often uncivil culture — the powerful attributes of duty and respect. May God bless you for protecting our freedom and America’s future.
Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at [email protected]