An avid “06880” reader sent this along:
Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. I didn’t really have an appreciation for what that meant — until I befriended a real, live vet.
After all, what did I know about “veterans”? I had a typical upper-middle-class suburban upbringing: a child of the ‘70s, teenager of the 80’s, raised in mostly peacetime, privileged hometowns similar to Westport.
No one in my immediate family had served. My father was drafted before I was born. He spent several months in the naval service in Michigan in 1960, nowhere near combat).
Viet Nam was a distant, black-and-white memory: Walter Cronkite relaying various strategic losses in Cambodia and Phnom Penh — remote places on the other side of the world that had nothing to do with me.
As a teenager and young adult, I was pretty much oblivious to Veteran’s Day. Sometimes I had the day off from work, sometimes not.
Recently, I started working with a fellow, someone much older than me, who had served in Viet Nam. I learned how important his military service was to him, to the person that he had become. Out of deference and respect, I patiently listened to his tales of service — his “war stories.”
They were pretty interesting! Exotic encounters with Vietnamese; confrontations with Viet Cong; near-death experiences with land mines, road bombs, ambushes; life in the Mekong Delta. He relished sharing his stories of what life in the military had taught him.
Next, I started going to the Memorial Day parade here in Westport, especially since one year my friend was marching. I was struck by the dignity and pride of the servicemen and women marching in the parade. I even visited the VFW a couple of times (how many Westporters have ever seen the inside of that building?).
Several years ago I was privileged to accompany my dear friend, and an elderly friend of his, to Bedford Middle School in November. It was a little-known event, at which local vets are invited to speak with 8th graders about their military experiences.
My friend thoughtfully prepared his presentation, candidly sharing his insights with the students. His friend, a WWII vet, spoke more extemporaneously, sometimes breaking down unabashedly in front of the youngsters.
It struck me then that these 2 handsome elderly gentlemen were once fresh-faced, optimistic youngsters, barely older than our seniors at Staples, when they confronted these tremendous trials – and even the prospect of death – all at an age when my greatest worry was paying the rent on my studio apartment in Manhattan.
Last year, for the first time, I attended the Veterans Day ceremony at Town Hall. I watched the proud men and women who had served stand tall when their branch of the service was recognized, get slightly teary-eyed at the playing of “Taps,” and greet each other gleefully like members of a fraternity or sorority at the conclusion. They made it back. They survived.
Remarkably, they were humble. They even demurred slightly when I said, “thank you for your service.” It was as if it were all in a day’s work.
I hope you tried it yourself. I hope you made your Veterans Day meaningful. If you had to work, I hope you thanked the veterans you know at your workplace.
If you were fortunate to get the day off, I hope you attended the ceremony at Town Hall.
If not, please think about doing so next year. It will make you proud to be an American.
And you’ll certainly be in good company.