What is a Veteran?

As an honored guest in a Veterans Day parade, I had not only the pleasure of enjoying the awesome Arizona Fall weather but I had the chance to meet several of the Tuskegee Airmen. The “Red Tails” were made famous in the movie of the same name. The speaker who introduced them said “They fought not only enemies in the sky but they were forced to  fight for their right to defend our nation.” Almost unthinkable times. I pray that my grandkids will never know what that looks like and that they only have to read about it in school.

So what is a Veteran? We heard today in the closing remarks for the celebration:

Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg – or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul’s ally forged in the refinery of adversity. Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can’t tell a vet just by looking. He is a cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day to make sure the armored personnel carriers didn’t run out of fuel. He is the little league coach, harder on the kids than we feel necessary but that behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel. He or she is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang. He is the POW who went away one person and came back another – or didn’t come back AT ALL. He is the Paris Island drill instructor who has never seen combat but saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other’s backs. He is the parade-riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and metals with a prosthetic hand. He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and metals pass him by. He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean’s sunless deep. He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket – palsied now and aggravatingly slow – who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come. He is an ordinary and yet extraordinary human being – a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs. He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the greatest nation ever known. So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say Thank You. That’s all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any metals they could have been awarded or were awarded… Two little words that mean a lot, “THANK YOU”.

It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag. TWO LITTLE WORDS – THANK YOU.” – Father Edward O’Brien/USMC

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