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It’s November 11, 2010. I’ve just landed in Doha, Qatar and I am getting ready to fly into Afghanistan. As I’m trying to sleep in full-gear leaning up against some palletized cargo in the belly of an airplane, I realize I’m becoming a war veteran on Veteran’s day.
Those three sentences took me 45 minutes to write. As I tried to seek a direction for this post I read several articles and blogs about Veteran’s Day in particular. They were all well written, but I noticed few, if any, were written by veterans. Thats when I realized why this post was giving me so much trouble: the history of Veteran’s Day is weighed differently for service men and women.
I know you’re probably thinking that I’m about to go on a self-righteous, single-tear-rolling-down-the-cheek, American-Flag-waving-in-the-background bit here, but its quite the opposite. Although I’m proud of my service and what I’ve done in the military, it pales in comparison to the sacrifices others have made. I am what you call a “Cable Dawg,” meaning that I install telecommunications systems for military bases; I don’t fly jets, I don’t bust down doors, I don’t storm the gates, I don’t toss the grenade or give cover fire, I just run cable.
When Veteran’s Day comes around, I am reminded of my great-grandpa, Wally Benson. I never met him on account of his death before my birth, but my grandpa told me all about him. When he was 18 years old, he was called up to serve the Allies in France in 1917. Grandpa Wally was a machine gunner in World War I from start to finish. We know that he was in the thick of it quite a bit, but thats really all we know; my grandpa says that his father never wanted to talk about the war, and experienced quite a bit of distress when thinking about it. However, in true Benson fashion, the one thing he did have to say was lighthearted: “I drank the old ditch water in France, but I’d be damned if I could sip a cup of tea!” You see, Grandpa Wally really didn’t like tea.
I’m 27 now. It’s difficult for me to imagine my great-grandpa as a shivering, scared, 18-year-old kid drinking dirty ditch water in France. World War I was said to be “the war to end all wars,” in fact, it was called the Great War until a similar horror surfaced as World War II in 1939. His experiences led my grandpa and his brother to join the military after the Attack on Pearl Harbor; my grandpa was just 17 years old, but he lied to get in. My other grandpa also served during the Korean War. All this led my big brother to join when he was just out of high school, which then led to me joining after my first year of college.
The most valuable takeaway from my deployment has been the connection I feel to my great-grandpa, my grandpas, my brother, and all the veterans currently serving. Although my experience was nothing in comparison to what Grandpa Wally went through in World War I, I can still relate to some of the fear, longing for homeland, and uncertainty he went through.
I’ve also learned that there are heroes walking amongst us constantly as we’ve entered the 13th year of the war in Afghanistan. So many men and women of today’s military have sacrificed life, limb, and sound-mind in support of our Nation, not to mention their families who partake in their suffering. Again these sacrifices are foreign to me, but to many who have served, they are a daily reality.
So what can we do to thank those who are currently serving and those whose sacrifices have created this culture of freedom? Well if you know someone who has served, a simple handshake or a pat on the back and a “thanks-for-your-service” is more than enough. I also encourage you to make a sacrifice for the benefit of others in honor of the sacrifices veterans have made for us; you could donate money to a veteran based charity, help a friend in need, volunteer at a soup kitchen, etc. BUT, if you really want to go the extra mile, get out there and be free. Go do something that you can only do in America. Pursue happiness. Read the free press. Go be equal. Just be free. There is no better way to celebrate veterans than to enjoy the very things about America that they fought so very hard to guarantee.
Eating a chili-dog and tossing a football around probably wouldn’t hurt either.
I’ll be catching trout.