I was in the lobby of the hotel in San Antonio getting coffee. It was still extremely early in the morning, and the only other soul up and about was the front desk receptionist. As I pushed down the handle to allow the liquid gold to pour into my paper cup, the doors to the left of me opened up, and an elderly gentleman sauntered into the lobby. I was actually taken by surprise not expecting anyone to be walking into the hotel at such an early hour. As I glanced to my left, I saw that the gentleman had on a variety of clothing articles, which made it very evident he was a veteran. As I customarily do, I said, “Thank you for your service.” The gentleman responded, “Thank you.” To which I responded, “You’re welcome.” I turned back to my coffee, added the contents of sweetener from the little yellow packet, threw in a couple of creamers and made my way back up to my room. An interaction had just occurred that took literally less than 10 seconds, but it is one that I will always remember. Had I not thanked the gentleman for the sacrifices he has made for this country, I would be kicking myself today.
In the past couple of months, I’ve been watching the series “Band of Brothers” on my flights. The opening credits and music give me chills no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Personally, I feel that every single high school student in this country should be required to watch this incredibly well done series. The sacrifices made and the horrors endured by the greatest generation must never be forgotten. As a former public school teacher of 16 years, I know firsthand that history has been and is taking a backseat in our classrooms. Our young generations need to see what others have given up and endured so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today. I truly worry about the disconnect that exists between the young people of today and the older (and almost completely gone) generations who endured and overcame monumental obstacles.
Our youth need to see how the country came together here and abroad to fight evil. They need to know how my grandfathers were welcomed home after World War II. They need to witness the ticker tape parades in New York City and the embraces and kisses our service men and women received. They need to know about the thousands upon thousands of our men and women who never made it back, but instead found their final resting places in Europe, Africa and in the Pacific. At the same time, they also need to see the disrespect my adopted father faced when he returned from Vietnam. They need to hear the jeering of people calling our service men and women “baby killers.” They need to learn that many service people changed out of their uniforms upon their arrival back in the states so as not to be spat upon and ridiculed. (For the record, my father kept his uniform on. He served his country proudly, and he wasn’t about to let anyone intimidate him.)
My own service to this country from 1990 to 1996 pales in comparison to others. I never had to be deployed. I never saw combat. I was never really in harm’s way. I am thankful for that. When someone learns that I am a veteran and thanks me for my service, it honestly makes me uncomfortable. I tell them it really wasn’t a big deal. I also tell them that there are many more service men and women who have given far more than myself to this country. I simply cannot ever be grateful enough to them and all they have given.
The most moving episode of “Band of Brothers” is entitled “Why We Fight”. I would never condone war. There is always a more peaceful, humane resolution. But, in this particular episode, when the men of Easy Company stumble upon a concentration camp, there was absolutely no question that what we did in Europe was not only right, but righteous. To sit through this particular episode and not cry or feel extreme emotions would make one non-human. The scenes of skin and bone men who were barely hanging on to their lives by a thread are heart wrenching. The bodies of those even less fortunate strewn everywhere are a horrible reminder of the pure evil and horrendous atrocities that were occurring in Europe.
In my heart is a desire that no American man or woman ever lose his or her life in service to this country again. But in my mind, I know that when the uniform is worn and the oath is taken, that risk is inherently there. I salute all the men and women who knowingly risked and are risking their lives for this country. The very least I can do is take a few seconds and utter five simple but powerful words: “Thank you for your service.”