The World War I Memorial and Museum starts their celebrations at least a week in advance. This year the building is lit with images of poppies. I’ve yet had an evening free where I could go and see it. It hits me every Veterans Day; every time I see social media fill up with photos and thank you notes. Veterans Day arrives and at first I view all of it from a distance. I don’t really remember Veterans Day being a big thing. The pastor during Sunday service might have given a sermon on soldiers and faith and then request that all military veterans stand for recognition. I don’t remember parades or fan fair though. Veterans Day was one of those holidays celebrated quietly with only a moment of gratitude taken before moving on with our day. Then I remember.
My Dad was a veteran.
It’s an easy thing to forget. My Dad’s time in the U.S. Air Force ended long before I came along. Randy is the only one of Dad’s children who was around during Dad’s service and I don’t know how much of that time he remembers. Dad never really mentioned his time in the military. He could go on and on about the camping and beauty of Michigan where he was stationed and how much he enjoyed living there. But he never mentioned anything about his actual time on base. The few things I know came from my mother. She talked only once about the tensions between the US and Russia during the Cuban missile crisis and how Dad was on call at the base. Russia was entering US airs space daily. It was a very tense time. Dad never spoke a word about it.
That was his way.
Dad would on very rare occasions impart snippets of the serious moments of his life. Years after doing so, Dad told me about riding on a charter bus with his fellow Union members to the Oklahoma State Capitol to protest the Right To Work amendment. I was so surprised by this story. I knew my Dad was proud of his Union and attended all of the meetings, but I had no idea of his actions. Dad would tell us stories of fishing and camping. He would talk about the mischief he would get into with my Uncle Russell. Yet he never talked about the serious moments. Not even towards the end. And when I think about it, Dad was not the only service member in our family to not really mention their time in service. Pepaw, a veteran of the second World War, would tell you a few details about his time spent in the South Pacific and only when prompted.
I overheard a story on the news of a veteran’s reaction to someone thanking him for his service. This man was gracious in his response but then gave some advice. He said instead of saying “thank you”, tell a veteran “I remember". It is more meaningful to be remembered. I am grateful for those who have the fortitude to serve this country in the military, but I also want to remember and never forget those who served. We forget that our veterans serve for only a certain amount of time before moving on and living ordinary lives. They move on, have careers and raise families. They retire and grow old. Instead of thanking a veteran, maybe we need to prompt a veteran to share their story.