Veteran's Day, 2002. It was cold on the side of the street, but she gloried in the perfect view she had of her beloved mountains, the presence of her family and their almost tangible pride, the knowledge that her brother would soon be marching down the street she watched and the honor she felt in wearing her blue uniform. She’d chosen to wear the skirt and heels instead of the trousers, and had taken special care to make sure her ribbons and shiny metal insignia were all attached appropriately – this was Veteran’s day, and today she could stand as a member of the military wearing her uniform and be proud. That knowledge always made her want to laugh and smile and cry all at the same time… and confirmed for her the decision two years earlier to attend OTS and join the Air Force. She reached up to slightly adjust her blue flight cap, brushing her fingers over the small, hard-won gold bar on the left-hand side and sliding her hand down habitually to tuck her short blonde hair behind her ears. She smiled as she watched the parade go by – chrome-encrusted Chevrolettes and loud Harleys, many of them carrying those who had gone before her in the service of their country, men whom she had never met but who were all her brothers, fathers, uncles. She saluted each car she could, pleased that she could show this small measure of respect to the heroes passing before her.

“Excuse me, Lieutenant…”

She turned and found herself facing an old man with the whole story of his service and sacrifice emblazoned on his veteran’s hat and proclaimed by the pride in his stance and the set of his chin. Before she had time to open her mouth, the man snapped to attention and saluted her. Instinctively her fingertips flew up to her eyebrow and she returned his salute, still without words. His eyes locked with hers intently, as if he had something very important to say.

“Lieutenant, I served in Viet Nam.” Pointing at his cap he told her the name and location of his unit, then continued. “I was a POW for five years over there. When I came back they made me a First Lieutenant and I retired here as a Captain. If they’d let me, I’d put the uniform back on and do it all over again. I just wanted to thank you for your service, and for everything you’re doing. Thank you, Lieutenant; we’re proud of you.”

As soon as he finished speaking he saluted sharply again, and again she instinctively returned the salute, then as quickly as he had come he was gone. Her eyes filled with tears and she felt incredibly humbled and unworthy and honored and proud. Her mother’s smile caught her eye, and she realized that both her mother and father – veterans themselves – had tears in their eyes as well. She was doing the one thing she wanted to…needed to do: she was making a difference.

1 comment:

Melissa & Andrew McQuillen said...

Wow. I'm breathless and completely choked up.