Yesterday many of my Facebook friends posted poignant memes and pictures of their loved ones who served or are serving in the military, or pictures of themselves. To the latter group, I do hope you were treated in a special fashion on Veterans Day.
True to form, I’m a day late posting my reflections.
Neither my dad nor my brothers were in the military, but 3 uncles on my dad’s side of the family and one on Mom’s side served. Dad’s brothers, Archie, Bill, and Jim, were Navy boys in WW 2, and thankfully all three of them came home safely. Mom’s brother, my Uncle Ken, was a career Army man. During his stint in Viet Nam he earned the honorable status of Green Beret. I was in junior high school at the time and would call the local radio station regularly to request “The Ballad of the Green Beret”. Then I’d get all weepy listening to it. Here are a few stanzas… You may not be a teenage girl with an uncle at war somewhere in the world, but yeah, you’ll cry too.
Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men we’ll test today
But only three win the Green Beret
Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her this last request
Put silver wings on my son’s chest
Make him one of America’s best
He’ll be a man they’ll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret
That song was my only point of reference when our 18 year old told us he wanted to join the Army after high school, so naturally, I cried, but not in front of him. The United States of America was not at war in 1998 when he went off to boot camp. We weren’t at war when he completed Advanced Individual Training and enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in college. However by the time he graduated from the university with a degree in fine arts, troops were being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, and his unit was called up.
There are things in life you can never forget — that every remembrance of them evokes the same emotion you felt the day it happened. Holding your newborn baby for the first time and looking into his eyes. For me it was always ‘his’ eyes, never her eyes — four times over it was ‘his’ precious eyes I looked into. Second, on the scale of emotions for me, sending my firstborn off to college. Our oldest son was independent from about the age of… two. He didn’t need us for much of anything, an aspect of his personality that brought enough friction we never expected it to be difficult to deposit him and most of his worldly possessions into a college dorm room, say goodbye, and drive away without him. But oh my goodness, we were wrong, and we were not prepared for that flood of emotion. It’s always those darn goodbyes that do you in.
I’m welling up at the memory, but it turned out that wasn’t the hardest goodbye. It was nothing compared to dropping Adam off, dressed in military duds, to be shipped off to Iraq. Other parents were standing around with their kids who were mostly eighteen and nineteen year old privates. I ached for them and yet seeing those kids consoled me — at least I wasn’t sending off my eighteen-year-old son. But, if I were letting go my younger boy, I would want to know he’d be lucky enough to have an officer like Adam in charge. And in that thought I found some degree of comfort — knowing these kids (and really, they are just kids) would be under the leadership of someone as strong, and smart, and caring as my 25 year old Adam.
Like my grandmothers before me, Grandma Bruce and Grammy Kubasik, I was lucky. Count us among the lucky ones. Our soldiers came back.
I can’t even type that without without tears. So many families weren’t so blessed. I think of all who are even now waiting, trusting, hoping their loved ones in the military will come home safely. And I pray for families, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, and children who grieve the unfathomable pain of losing their loved one to war. To them every Veterans Day must bring sad memories. I want to say bittersweet memories, but there can’t be anything sweet, unless it’s in knowing that our entire country sets aside a day to honor the ones they’ve lost. To all of you in that circumstance I apologize for being a day late in taking time to reflect on their sacrifice.
To all those I know and love who have survived war, as well as those who never fought, but wore the uniform, to all of you who are Veterans, I trust you had a special day yesterday and basked in the honor you well deserve. Among those close to me — our good friend, Gary Shaffer, and to my third born son, Major Adam Henning, thank you for your service and your sacrifice. May you be blessed.