Monday, May 30, 2005
Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye.
Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul's alloy forged in the refinery of adversity.
Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem.
You can't tell a vet just by looking.
What is a vet?
He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers did not run out of fuel.
He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.
She or he is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.
He is the POW who went away one person and came back another or did not come back at all.
He is the Parris Island Drill Instructor who has never seen combat but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.
He is the carrier pilot landing on a rolling, pitching, heaving flight deck during a rain squall in the pitch-black night of the Tonkin Gulf.
He is the parade-riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.
He is the career quartermaster (Army Supply Corps) who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.
He is the Army Ranger who scaled the cliffs at Normandy or who humps endless miles of burning sand for three days with no sleep or food and very little water to designate targets for laser guided bombs or swims through a disease infested swamp and crawls over poisonous snakes under the cover of darkness to conduct intelligence on a foreign government hostile to our own and our cherished way of life.
He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb of the Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's deep.
He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket palsied now and aggravatingly slow who helped liberate a Nazi death comp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.
He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being, a person who offered some of his life's most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.
He is soldier, airman, sailor or Marine with a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.
He or she, are the sailors of the aircraft carriers who averaged 19 years of age, and the skilled pilots who flew from and landed on a pitching deck.
He is the sailor who spent six (6) months under the water in a submarine with no phone calls and no letters from home.
He is the soldier or Marine who went from firefight to firefight in Iraq, fighting the enemy, the sandstorms, the snakes and spiders, without the luxury of a shower for a month.
He or she are those who made the supreme sacrifice who we remember this day.
So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say Thank You. That's all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.
Two little words that mean a lot, "THANK YOU."