Each year, over on The Kitchen Dispatch, I pen a new post for Veterans’ Day. But this year, I’m re-running this one, because I think the feelings remain the same.
Each November they come, marching on streets from Fullerton to New York City. Some are grizzled and grey, their columns are not as straight as they were when they were younger, and many march arm in arm. Many of their families stand on the curb to take photos and wave.
To watch a Veterans’ Day parade is to bear witness to a timeline of war and peace: Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, The Pacific, and Europe. And if you were to imagine marching ahead of them could be the honorable spirits from Belleau Wood, San Juan Hill, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Valley Forge. We might even imagine the loved ones they left behind to go to wars of a bygone time, standing alongside the present families to watch the procession go by. War. It is an unfortunate event that bonds generations together.
The passing years are gently worn by some of the WWII vets. While there are those still able to make the march, others sit at the staging area. They wear caps emblazoned where and with whom they served. Many have medals pinned to their jackets. Their vision is not as keen, sharp sounds are softer now. Yet, here they are, craning their necks, listening for the familiar sound of boots on the ground.They are waiting for their brothers who are marching for them.
Veterans gather every November 11 not just for the fanfare, hoopla, or flag waving. They come together to feel the bonds of service. For this was a time in their life when brotherhood was never a question and trust meant the difference between life and death. Unlike the camaraderie displayed among actors on a screen, or by athletes on a team, what separates them is the oath they took to protect and serve our country. Often this meant saving the life of their brothers, even if it could cost them their own. What distinguishes them is each has walked the warrior path, embodying a code of ethics and honor, and a willingness to sacrifice everything. In combat, they put aside their own needs. They would die for each other, they would die for you, they have died for us.
We know this day stirs old memories of those they have lost. Battle buddies who sat with them in a trench, a hooch, on the deck of a carrier, on a stretch of beach but didn’t make it through. The sounds and smells of war come back, not only today, but late at night when everyone in the house is asleep. For it’s not just the physical harm they risked, what they put on the line was their soul, sacrificing their own sense of peace. What many have worked so hard to get back is the same certainty they had during the war –a cause or person who makes them feel that life matters as much now as it did back then. Hand to hand; face to face; eye to eye; brother to brother; soul to soul.
Some have weathered the toll of war better than others. The men and women who have trudged through fields, jungles and urban decay have to regain their balance in fog of war. Today, when the word veteran is greatly shortchanged by stereotypes, when they themselves are politicized, finding their inner peace hasn’t been easy. For some, the search has been elusive, and others struggle. But many, who have reclaimed it, work tirelessly to help those who are still on the march, trying to catch their breath. They are, and always will be –warriors.
This is why we gather on Veterans Day: to see and honor the brotherhood between those who have served and continue to do so. All we have to say to them when we walk by are five simple words: “Thank you for your service.”