Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remember and honor

Veteran's day is a little odd, in that you wouldn't wish someone a "happy veteran's day" and even though it is a Federal holiday, most schools and civilian businesses continue to operate as normal.

The other day I sat down on the bus next to an older gentleman who was wearing a dime sized USMC pin and a ribbon. I didn't recognize the ribbon, not that I would recognize anything other than the biggies like a purple heart or such. I thanked him for his service, and he told me about himself. He'd been drafted straight out of Julliard, of all places. His instrument was the violin. He was wearing a ribbon to remember his buddies who fell in Korea, specifically the battle of Inchon. He told me that he was not there because the USMC found out his mother was a member of the communist party and so pulled him out of the combat zone back to the states to stand before a committee and answer questions about his own patriotism. When they finished with that line of questioning, they looked at his paperwork and said that the Marines didn't need no G*$ D@$m violinists, and what else could he do. He ended up drawing for the Camp Lejeune paper. Unfortunately, he became a victim of polluted water. He is a man very lucky to have lived so long.

Military service runs in my family. At one point we were a "three star" family- meaning that there were three of us on active duty at once. My brothers and I didn't necessarily grow up with the dream of wearing the uniform of the day- but we each came to a decision at different points in our lives that we would follow the tradition of military service.

My father was one of four very active boys. He served 3 tours in Vietnam and "earned" five Purple Hearts along with some seriously important bravery awards that he now shrugs off as unimportant. He and his brothers all voluntarily joined the military and deployed to Vietnam. When youngest joined the military, he was kept from deploying by his brothers, who each requested an additional tour to keep him out of harm's way. Apparently he never forgave them for denying him his opportunity to serve in a combat zone.

My mother joined the Women's Army Corps, which existed before women were allowed into the regular Army. She wanted to get away from Buffalo, NY - where she grew up. She spent 11 years stationed, ironically, in Buffalo before finally having the opportunities given to men. She became one of the first female senior non commissioned officers of her units, and was even a First Sergeant, which is very big indeed for a female at the time.

(Growing up, I never understood the "your mama wears combat boots" saying- I could tell it was meant to be an insult based on tone of voice but rarely was it directed at people whose moms were actually wearing the uniform and thus combat boots).

Years and years later, while working for the Army as a civilian, my mom had the opportunity to go to Iraq. At 50 odd years old, she not only volunteered, but she had to fight with people so she could go; no one wanted to be the one signing the approval paperwork to send her to the green zone. When she did get there, she was able to use her talents to improve supply requisitions and made sure the troops there got the equipment they needed. She volunteered because she knew she could make a difference.

Veterans come in all different types and have many different stories, even on how they became veterans. Regardless of what they did in the military, wearing that uniform means they are/were willing to give the ultimate sacrafice for their country. It also means giving up some rights that civilians have (like freedom of speech).

I am just so proud to have had the opportunity to serve. I am so honored to have worked with such brave and inspired people.

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