One of the things I love about my little section of Ohio is our local salute to veterans. Flags fly and small banners featuring the faces of soldiers past and present line the streets.
It seems like everyone I know either has a family member or friend who has served in the armed forces or is serving now. My brother served in the Air Force and my dad was overseas in Europe. Every chance I get, I talk to my dad about his experience because those stories are so important,. They are more valuable to me than looking at battle timelines and the dates we memorized in school.
How My Family Members Have Served
My dad was lucky enough that he didn’t have to actively fight like my uncles did. None of my uncles died while serving. All of them received some level of honor when they were discharged. However, they had one thing in common. They didn’t speak of their experience once they came home. I can ask my dad now if his brothers ever spoke about their duties. He will just shake his head and say no or shut the conversation down.
Personal Accounts of Service
I have another uncle who served in Vietnam who recently passed away. At the memorial service, as I was speaking to my cousins, they said their dad would only say a sentence or two about his time there.
However, as my cousins cleaned out his house, they came across a hidden diary. My uncle documented a very graphic portrait of an ambush he was actively involved in. He was only one of sixteen fellow soldiers who survived it. My cousins had no idea about this. To add insult to injury, many of my uncle’s medals were taken when their home was robbed many years ago. This same uncle clearly felt that the experience was very private. He didn’t want to share it but made sure it was documented. Finding the diary was a blessing to them, albeit a shocking one.
My dad’s story was different. He was drafted and sent to Europe. While he was there, he made lots of friends and was able to do some traveling. He took lots of great photos of churches and monuments in France, Italy, and Germany that we treasure. At least one will be on my gallery wall. He and his friends certainly had their share of antics. Sometimes, though, he’ll talk about two of his army buddies who lost their dads when they were overseas. They weren’t allowed to come home to bury their fathers.
My Town’s Salute to Veterans
Last year, my little town built a Veterans Park in the downtown area, and I walk past it with Yosemite almost every morning. It seems like they’re always adding a new feature to it. Even though it’s but a postage stamp in size, it’s still a place of serenity. There are benches where you can just sit and reflect on the sacrifices of lives for our freedom. There are bricks that line the park with the names of soldiers on them. As I look at them, they become not just bricks lining a path, but markers of people and lives lost. There are memorials to all units of the armed forces lining one side of the park. You can walk through the park from one end to another, viewing the maps, photos, and timelines of all the battles.
Even though there’s nothing animated to watch, it doesn’t matter. The experience still feels grave, yet impactful, even spiritual.
No matter what you do today, I hope you can carve out a little time to pay respect to someone who is serving or who has served. Find a memorial near you to visit, watch a documentary, safely visit a veteran you know, or check out this list of ideas. What is your personal salute to veterans? Do you have a Veteran’s Day tradition? I’d love to hear about it!