Imagine accepting a job that requires a grueling and extensive training program in which you must learn to set aside your individuality and learn to work with a strong and unwavering team. Your boss may send you to any locale where you are needed and you have little or no say in that decision. Your hours are long, beginning whenever your services are needed and ending only when the designated tasks are done. You must respect authority and accept commands without question. You wear a company uniform day in and day out. In fact, your appearance is purposely bland so that you do not stand out from your peers. You often find yourself in highly dangerous situations which demand split second decisions. Your stress level is high. Your efforts may or may not be fully understood or appreciated by your friends and family. You have agreed to become a member of the military.
On this Veteran’s Day I find myself thinking quite realistically about the life of those who once wore the uniform of a soldier. It took a certain level of bravery to even consider giving up a few years of total freedom to endure the regimented life in the Army, Navy, Marines, or Air Force. The simple act of enlisting or, as in my young years, being drafted means signing an ironclad contract to serve and protect our United States wherever there is a need. From my own perspective it is difficult to even imagine what a bold and generous move military service is, and yet throughout the history of our country time and again men and women have answered the call of duty, honor, and courage.
I attended the funeral of an incredible man last week. He had once been one of my superiors at work. I already knew him to be someone larger than life itself but during the service I learned something about him that stunned me. I had always wondered why a person like him who had been drafted by the Los Angeles Rams had not jumped at the chance to join the NFL. What I found out as we all grieved over his passing is that this truly noble man had thought it more important to enlist in the military so that he might help with the conflict in North Korea that was raging at the time. He took a pass on the glamour of a career in professional football in deference to an occupation that he deemed more significant. As I listened to his eulogy his stature rose ever higher in my estimation.
Being in the military is never a picnic. There are few guarantees. Some do their time and then return to fairly normal lives as civilians. Others are scarred for life. Many only return in a flag draped coffin. They see and hear and do things that would terrify most of us. They tend to hold their stories inside their hearts because all too often the horrors that they have seen are too much to bear much less repeat. It is easier not to mention them or to dredge up memories that induce nightmares. They speak instead of camaraderie with their fellow soldiers and funny anecdotes that broke the tension of their work and made them laugh when they thought that they surely might go insane. On those rare times when they admit to seeing death and feeling fear they can hardly contain their emotions. Their tears flow freely as they remember friends who died in front of their eyes or missions that were so terrifying that only adrenalin and an unwavering desire to protect their fellow soldiers kept them going.
Our troops have been in some of the most dangerous places on earth, locales that would frighten most of us. They have plied their trade with honor and dignity in most instances but there is rarely anything romantic or glorious about the work that they are often called upon to do. They are special people who give of themselves in the most personal ways. They understand that our freedom is precious and they are willing to put everything that they are on the line. They are very good people.
Throughout the history of our grand but imperfect nation there have been men and women willing to fight and build and protect. They have traveled to faraway Africa to build hospitals. They have walked through the war torn streets of Iraq. They stormed Normandy on D Day. They sat in dank and disease ridden trenches in World War I. They fought in farmers’ fields, brother against brother during our own terrible Civil War. They guarded European nations during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. They brought aid to countries torn apart by natural disasters and famine. They liberated concentration camps and witnessed human misery at its most horrific. They struggled in the hot jungles of Vietnam only to return home to derision and neglect. They gave up other opportunities so that they might do what they saw as right and just. They gave of themselves in the highest form of sacrifice, rushing into places that others were fleeing.
Until we have walked in their boots and answered the call of reveille day after day we will never truly understand just how remarkable the lives of our veterans have been. Just as we all too often take the members of the military for granted, so too do we tend to forget the high price of our freedom that has been paid again and again with the blood of our soldiers. It is fitting that we honor them on a day like today but even this small effort is never really enough to repay them for what they have done.
It is important that we all insist that our veterans receive decent pay for their immeasurable efforts. We must not forget them when they return home damaged almost beyond repair. It is up to all of us make it a certainty that they will the receive timely and advanced medical care that they need. We must always ensure that their labors have not been in vain. Our gratitude must be ever front and center so that they understand just how much we will always appreciate them.
Find a veteran today. Thank him or her. Do something special to honor the men and women who keep us safe even when as we go about our lives without thought of them. Right now there are members of the military who will do whatever must be done at a moment’s notice. They are on call 24/7 so that the rest of us may enjoy our many blessings. Let us never ever forget nor underestimate the magnitude of their efforts. Let us always be humbled by their courage and determination. On this Veteran’s Day we must all understand that we get to find those special sales at the mall because in ways both big and small the men and women who wear the uniform of the military have had our backs time and again. Veterans are the bedrock of our society.