Thursday, November 7, 2013

Veterans Day… Then and Now


I come from a family who has always honored and valued those who had the title of “Veteran.”  I knew how they fought for our safety, and went in harms way for people like you and me, while being away and sacrificing time from their very own loved ones.  I would say and consider myself to be an extremely “patriotic” person.  I would say the pledge proudly at the beginning of each school day with my class, and loved to watch the color guard march in parades throughout the year in our small hometown.  I have sung the National Anthem at countless basketball, volleyball, and football games and on stages all across Missouri and the United States.  I knew the meaning behind those words sung and the veterans whom those words truly belonged to.  I have taught my students about the price our veterans have paid for us to sit in our warm classrooms and learn all the knowledge that we truly are privileged to learn.  I have placed in the hearts of my own girls the beauty behind the American Flag and how to honor it properly.

Absolutely, all those things above are still 100% true in my book and are never to be put down.  Things have changed in my world, and I am now preparing for a Veterans Day Celebration, this coming Monday, in which my own husband is being honored for his sacrifice to our country.  This coming event has my heart truly pondering the depths of Veterans Day and how it has changed for me.  It is all those things above, and so much more now.  Some of my thoughts are driven based off of my experience during the last six months of my life, others come from how I know my husband felt about veterans in his life and those battles and wars he spent his lifetime studying, and also from those who served with my husband during his 12 years of service to our country.

Veterans Day is about men like Trent’s grandfather, a great man who Trent admired and worked daily to be more like him.  Serving in WWII, he left the only world that he knew to go and see things that no man should ever see.  Veterans Day is about Herald Rhea.  A man who taught my husband about true bravery and saw death first hand in terrible battles that we only read partially about in our history books.  The terrible visions etched in his mind, until he went to heaven, we will never know.   But, those moments and his sacrifices allow us to live as we do now…free.

Veterans Day is about the camaraderie between the men and women in battle who become one another’s family.  The guys and gals who meet over a cup of coffee while in training, who huddle in a barrack and play video games for hours just to get away from the sand and mess of a world that wait outside their fence surrounding their FOB.  Or the guy, who knows that a package of Oreos and a hidden five-dollar bill will forever link them as battle buddies.  Those comrades are what Veterans Day is about. 

Veterans Day is about those same comrades who have taken the place of a buddy and gone on a mission they weren’t scheduled to be on.  Those medics who tend to and patch up their own friends, those who do everything they can possibly think of to keep their buddy alive until more help can come.  Veterans Day is about walking down a road (if you can even call it that), with your comrades around you, in a country that the people literally spit at you and spite you with every ounce of their being, while those same soldiers pray that today will be calm day and that only rocks will be thrown at them by the children that line the street and nothing worse will come their way.  That is what Veterans Day is to me now.

Veterans Day, now, is about the families back home waiting for a phone call or a Skype session with their soldier.  A glimpse at a digitized picture of their loved one, or even just a second to say “I love you, Daddy.” Veterans Day is to honor those families and their soldiers who aren’t together on this day, or a holiday, or a birthday, or for a first day of Kindergarten, or for a Pre-K Christmas concert where the kids don’t even sing, it’s more of a shout.  But they miss it, for you and me.  People they don’t even know, they miss out on special moments like those, for us.

Veterans Day is about those soldiers in beautiful dress blues, who had the task of walking up the steps to my house, with a yellow ribbon attached to a pillar and the stars and stripes flying next to the door, as they prepare to knock to give the news to me, a wife, that her husband gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country.  It’s for that soldier and Chaplain who sat and held my hands, as I heaved in pain and shook in disbelief, as the words left their lips. 

Veterans Day is for my Casualty Assistance Officer who has held my hand as I walked to my husband’s casket for the first time.  The man who carried my children through the Philadelphia Airport at 3:00 am.  The man who pinned my gold star on me, in my kitchen, and helped me make terribly hard decisions that no 30-year-old woman should ever have to make.  This same man who gave up time with his own wife and children to take me to briefings, meet with public relations people, and just be there for me and my girls.  That man, is what Veterans Day is about.

Veterans Day is about the man who was another one of my husband’s battle buddies who asked if he could have the honor of escorting my husband home to me.  He sat and prayed over my husband for hours in Dover and while traveling to Kansas City.  He gave up time with his wife and boys to take care of my family.  This man is what Veterans Day is about.

Veterans Day is about the men that also lost their lives in the terrible chain of events the day of my husband’s death.  Those soldiers whom they searched for and prayed for their safety.  Safety that they did not have that day.  Those soldiers and their families is what Veterans Day is about.

Veterans Day is about my husband’s squad.  Those soldiers who spent the last months, days, and hours with Trent.  Those men and women who spent his last birthday with him, his last Thanksgiving and Christmas with him, laughed with him, and prayed with him before every mission.  Those men and women who put their own lives in danger to try and save my husband.  Those men and women who searched disgusting, terrible water to try and find him.  The man who took orders from his leader, jumped out of his gear, and dove blindly time after time in search for Trent.  The woman who ran her hands down every stripe of his flag and kissed the stars of his box before being flown home to me.   Those soldiers, his squad, is what Veterans Day is to me now.

Veterans Day is about my daughters.  Those little girls who smile and laugh when they play in a pile of leaves and look up to ask me if Daddy liked to play in leaves, too.  My little beautiful girls who pray nightly “We love you and miss you Daddy, have fun in heaven with Jesus!”  My precious girls who want a little bit more of Daddy’s cologne on their t-shirt of his that they each cuddle with as they sleep.  My daughters who know first hand what loss is like, and who refer to their Daddy as their hero, because he is.

Veterans Day is my Rhea.  The man who stood by me for eight years of my life.  The man who could hold his daughters with such tenderness, but hold a weapon with such strength.  The man who felt his soldiers were his own, and he would walk their walk, not just talk the talk.  The man who did give the ultimate sacrifice.  My Rhea…he is what Veterans Day is about. 

Veterans Day means so much more to me now.  These soldiers mentioned above put themselves before others, something that so many of us struggle with.  They chose to have their job.  They choose to stand in the face of danger for the people of our country and others.  They do not receive the credit and honor they deserve, but they should, daily.  Not just one day of the year, but daily.  I am thankful for the veterans in my life.  I am very grateful for the veterans that played a role in my husband’s life.  Veterans Day is so much more now….so very much more.