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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran

041

Sherron E. Harbison

He was my cousin, but I never knew him.  He died three months before I was born, in a country on the other side of the world. 

And yet.

Standing at the wall, running our fingers down the list of names, tears sprang into my eyes - an instant connection - an instant sorrow and, seriously, an honest-to-God overwhelming urge to find a veteran and give him a big giant hug and sloppy wet kiss for the sacrifices he or she had made.  That's the purpose of the Vietnam Memorial, I think.  To help us remember that, regardless of our politics, the men and women that serve our country in times of war and in times of peace deserve our utmost respect, and our undying gratitude.

There are over 58,000 names on this wall.  58,000 people who gave that "last full measure of devotion" that Lincoln spoke of so eloquently in his Gettysburg address.  And that's just from one war.

There are countless others who served our military and came home, and they deserve our very best.  My father is one of those - he served in the Air Force for 20 years - for the majority of the Cold War and for a great deal of the Vietnam War.  I've been proud of him my whole life.  I loved seeing him in his uniform, the stripes on his shoulders, the crisp blue hat on his head.  He looked like a hero.

Because he is one.

My grandfather was in the Army Air Corps in World War II.  I've never once heard him talk about it.  It wasn't something to brag about, to him.  It was just what you did when your country called on you.  He left my grandmother with her parents and went off to England.  My mother has no memory of him until she was around 3 years old.  I've seen him in his uniform in pictures, and he looked like a hero.

Because he is one.

The men and women who put themselves into the line of fire so that we don't have to are heroes.  Right now, in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are people who have volunteered to fight.  Maybe you don't believe in those wars, but you know what?  What they are doing?  They believe in it.  They are doing it because for them, it's more important to ensure that you have the right to believe whatever the heck you want and express those beliefs without fear of repercussion.   They are there because they believe that the Iraqi people and the Afghan people should be able to live in a country where they can do the same thing.

So today, and every other day, honor your country's veterans.  Tell them thank you.  Shake their hands.  Let them go ahead of you in line.

Treat them like the heroes they are.

Peace.