Friday, November 11, 2016
My dad was in the Navy for about 24 years. He did three tours in Vietnam & was awarded a Purple Heart each time. (They give the medal the first time, then a little star each time after.) He has many awards and medals. For 13 of those years, he was a SEAL. (That's just a fraction of the things he accomplished during his career.)
He wasn't really around the first couple of years of my life because he was sent on so many missions. Even when he wasn't deployed, I didn't see much of him. To be fair, there were other factors involved, but, essentially, my dad's Naval career took a huge toll on his first marriage (my mom), my relationship with him, and what he experienced during his career also affected his health and many other relationships.
Growing up, I hated the Navy. I hated the military. I hated this entity that took my dad from me. I loved going to new places, but I hated that I could never really get close to anyone because we would move year after year. Up until I was about 14 years old, I was convinced that the majority of the pain in my life could be placed on the military.
The summer I was 14 going on 15, my dad took his second wife, my brother Lincoln and me to D.C., and, my God, I don't think any single experience comes as close to how much that changed my life, with the exception of becoming a mother. I saw things that still to this day make me cry as if it just happened.
I'm not going to tell you all the things that happened, only what I experienced with my dad.
We went to the Memorial Wall. I saw people of all races, all ages, all backgrounds, crying over a wall with names. I didn't understand. My dad cried. It was the first time I had ever seen him break down. It was frightening to see a mountain of a man crumble to his knees and weep.
He told me stories. Something he never did before. He told me about a mission in which two men volunteered to stay behind so the rest of the team could escape. He told me how one of those men was married with a baby on the way, but he gave up his life without hesitating, as well as the other. They told my dad, "Today is a good day to die." My dad was the one to deliver the news to the pregnant widow.
He told me his nightmares about the first man that he killed in hand-to-hand combat...he told me about his best friend being killed right in front of him. My God, the things my dad had been holding in...
He also told me a story about how they would nickname each other based on the names of their hometown newspapers. My dad's paper, the Wagner Post, was jokingly called the Wagner Wipe, so my dad was called T.P. Tom. Watching him laugh, with tears in his eyes, listening to his stories, as well as stories of other people visiting, something changed inside of me.
The hate I had been carrying had given me tunnel vision, but my visit to the Wall opened up my view. Suddenly (and yes, it was suddenly), I saw what had been in front of me all my life: sacrifices...ALL of them.
Oh, sure. We all know that soldiers miss birthdays, holidays and special occasions. If you grew up in a military family, you know how often milestones are missed. I blamed the military for taking that time away from my dad and me, but with my epiphany, I finally realized two things...
1) Nothing is taken, the soldiers give. And, 2)they give so much more than the obvious, they give up every little moment. Breakfast with the family. Seeing a tooth missing when a child smiles. The moments the rest of us often take for granted. Not just the big moments.
Their sacrifices can also include their emotional health, their physical health and their very lives. They basically write a blank check with their souls and hand it over so the rest of us can live our lives the way we choose.
If they make it home, they are often broken, sometimes discarded, not always thanked and rarely do we even learn their names. They often come home to the rest of us acting like a bunch of idiots. They go through hell and have to stand by us at the gas pump bitching about the price. They live through unimaginable horror and watch as someone in the grocery line acts like it's the end of the world because a coupon expired.
Just like that, with my new perspective, my hate turned into pride, with an abundance of gratitude. Ever since, there is not one day that I don't give thanks to the men and women who served our country.
Some of you I know. I see you, I see how your sacrifices have affected your lives. I know your names and include you in my prayers.
Most of you I do not know. I may never know your names or your sacrifices, but I thank you and your families from the bottom of my heart. Please know that there are many of us who will never forget.
I am the daughter of a veteran, the sister of a veteran, the wife of a veteran. I may very well be the mother of a veteran one day. My family has fought in every war involving the U.S. as far back as the Civil War (both sides) and then some.
I think it is fitting that Veterans Day is in the same month as Thanksgiving. We are taught to give thanks for our blessings on that day. I am asking you, on this day, to show your thanks by giving...give back to those who gave us everything, whether it was for a few years or a lifetime.
It can be as simple as saying thank you or buying a cup of coffee, or helping rake leaves or cooking a dinner. Just give.
And, please, for those who are currently serving, please do what you can to help make our country worth fighting for. More importantly, give our soldiers a home worth coming back to.
Ursula K Raphael