Shortly after returning from my first tour to the sandbox, I was at a restaurant with my new troops. At the time, their average age was about 20, and their average time in service was less than two years. While we were eating, an older lady came over and thanked us all for our service. We all gave the embarrassed “thank you” in reply and the lady left. I turned to my troops and told them that I had discovered two things in my time in the Army (around 5 years at that point): One, you will always appreciate people expressing their gratitude. Two, no matter what you do, where you have been or what you have endured, you will never feel worthy of it.
So many have given so much for this country. My contribution pales in comparison. I think of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy in a veritable storm of machine gun and artillery fire. I think of General Washington’s troops at Valley Forge, losing limbs not to enemy fire, but because of a lack of shoes for the Army in the bitter winter cold. I think of the men in the jungles of Vietnam, fearing sniper fire at any moment. I think of the men in WWI, moving from trench to trench while being attacked with artillery, small arms and mustard gas. I think of the destroyer, battleship, and carrier men in the WWII Pacific theater, out-manned and out-gunned, spending their days seasick or worse as open targets in the middle of the sea, many of those killed died not from enemy fire, but from being burned alive on their boats or drowning in the unforgiving ocean. I think of the brave men and women that have kicked down doors and cleared urban battle zones in the GWOT, from Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond.
I think of those who came home missing limbs, eyes, or severely disfigured. I think of those who returned in flag-draped coffins with an honor guard to see them safely home one last time. I think of those who returned home but never made it back.
I do appreciate your words of thanks, even if they embarrass me slightly. I did appreciate the free lunch I received from Applebee’s today, even though I do not feel I did anything special to deserve it. For over 235 years, young men and women have taken up arms for this country, and we have been blessed for all that they have done. For over 235 years, people have put their lives on the line for the greatest nation on earth to defend it from all threats without. That makes it even more urgent that we fight on the front of politics and public opinion to defend it from the threats within. I have hope, I attended a Veteran’s Day assembly at a local elementary school today where the kids sang “Grand Old Flag” and Lee Greenwood’s “Proud To Be An American” among other songs. I heard the 5th grader’s essay about how much she loves America because of our freedom to be who we want and what we want. I have hope for America and I’ve done my small part, but there is so much more to do.
God bless America.