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As a young girl, my father and grandfather taught me about service. My father served in the Army, my grandfather in the Navy. On my mother’s side of the family – through literature, through the proper teaching of history and to be honest, my mother’s willingness to discuss her time on the Presidio at the height of the Vietnam protests, as the wife of an Officer, figures prominently in shaping my respect for the men (and women) who serve Freedom’s cause.
On Veteran’s Day, or Remembrance Day as our Allies across the pond prefer, every one of us is challenged to be grateful for the service – of those strangers who fight for our freedom, for liberty, for a more civilized society – defending us from predators and terrorists, unspeakable evil across the globe.
In years past, I wrote of the plight that faces Gold Star families. Friends. The absence of a loved one, the unending gulf of despair felt by them – and their cynicism when many Americans see Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day as an occasion for a barbeque, or a blowout furniture sale. The truth, so much closer to their hearts – is a yearning for understanding.
More often though, I have written about the relationship between our warriors and their beloved:
The sacred trust between a warrior and his wife is unbreakable, even in the face of marital turbulence.
Those quiet midnight goodbyes…before he heads out to the flight line… or before the call of the Boatswain’s pipe fades… these husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, become bound together. Those memories are sustenance for the warrior as the world explodes around him. Or as silence falls forever… Warriors deserve more than the simple things we hear about in the news… they deserve a warm memory where the lines between self and selfless are shared with his woman… Those last fervent kisses linger… and with every letter from home… he is reminded.
This year… I find myself re-reading those words. Early this morning, I quietly fixed my Gold Star pin to the American Flag I received it with, then placed both carefully into the walnut case from the United States Air Force. More than a decade ago, I was given that small token from my government as a gesture – but it felt like a brand. An honor of course, but one I scarcely understood. I was 25. I knew my charge was to be as honorable in life as he had been in service to our nation. I only hope I have succeeded in some small measure, goodness knows I work at it a little each day.
My perspective has evolved. Mortality, love, service, honor, duty are not receding from my consciousness. Instead, they are renewed and more omnipresent. For my friends in uniform, I have such respect for you. Your tireless hours in unspeakable places, with fear your nearest companion – I pray for you each night. Each morning.
Your girlfriends, wives, lovers, husbands, boyfriends, children, parents, siblings, friends – are so thankful for you today. Thankful that our nation took a collective pause to acknowledge your selfless service to us all.
The American people will never know your courage. The grace with which you execute your duties. And while average soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines receive gratitude in broad daylight at the airport, or at the grocery store, at their children’s school, in a letter from home — there are countless people, just as honorable – just as selfless – who work in the shadows.
The shadows. Special forces. Intelligence. Provisional commands. Recon. Extraction. Combat rescue. KNR. Joint operations. Cold Warriors. And folks from the CIA, NGA, and other agencies who work behind the scenes – far from the ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery or at the World War II Memorial. They are as responsible for our safety, our bedrock confidence in the continuity of government as any person walking down the street . On this Veterans Day, I ask that you think of the unseen – the thankless job of covert operators across the globe that keep us free.
To love them, though they are in shadow – is the charge each American must take up. If you are fortunate enough to know these men – the SEALs, Delta Operators, PJs, Force Recon – try to look past their tough Snake Eater exterior. Like their Intel colleagues, they deserve a berth a bit wider… a kiss that lingers a little longer… accommodation for their transition home. They carry the unspeakable burden of freedom. Not one of them is Atlas.
Perhaps these men are more akin to King Arthur, think of them in noble pursuit – not of the Holy grail – but of Freedom, prosperity, sanctuary from terror, equality.
Each man or woman who has pulled on their uniform, from enlisted folks wearing class As to the Admirals with their epaulets and swords, America owes you our gratitude. Our respect. Our love. We cherish each selfless act. Every unseen battle. Every unwitnessed event of heroism. When you stand on the battlefield, and the concussive blasts fall so close… know that you are loved. Appreciated. Remembered.
That is my promise:
We are all captives of love, of danger and run to what is tangible. We all want to believe in the purity of the powerful connections we have in one another… Look to history… warriors and their loved ones have won this battle for relevance… this hunger for acknowledgment and understanding. Shakespeare wrote of such love.For the cynics, the skeptics and the hopeful alike… an image emerged this month of love – or lightning – captured for the ages… a Neolithic burial site revealed a young couple locked in an embrace for more than 5,000 years… the first of its kind and just miles from Verona – where Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers burst from the pages of Romeo and Juliet – were revealed.
And to my beloved, thank you for reaching into the heavens and bringing me your Blue Star. Come home soon.