Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Almost all of us will be thankful over the next few days for our American veterans — our military men and women over the centuries who have fought and all too often died defending these United States. Soldiers who are willing to sacrifice not only time away from work but also away from children, from husbands and wives, parents and sweethearts.
They will do this, as generations before and generations to come, for fellow citizens they will never meet. That matters not to the U.S. military person — the oath of loyalty to the Stars and Stripes is for everyone. It has always been that way and always will be.
Naturally, when the soldiers are involved their families are as well. Think of it — mothers with hearts breaking watching sons go off to war. Fathers standing proud but crumbling inside as a child who has grown into an adult leaves home, perhaps for the last time. Little brothers and sisters who notice a quiet that had not been there before. An empty place at the dining room table. The old dog outside who wonders what happened to the best friend that always went hunting with him. All of these feelings and more have happened to families in a thousand hills and hollows around Four Seasons Country. Few areas anywhere in the nation have contributed a greater percentage of sons and daughters to the cause of liberty than right here in these mountains surrounding us.
A family’s sacrifice is sometimes overlooked by the general public but the soldiers know how precious that is. Many parents would gladly take the child’s place but that is not the way of things. Each new generation has its place to fill and a job to do. How hard it is to simply wait and hope. Church pews offer more comfort than ever before to some and prayers take on special significance when the military comes calling. Friends and family circle their spiritual wagons in times like those.
Glad reunions and happy homecomings are always hoped for and welcomed when the family’s pride and joy comes marching home. Those terrible phone calls and heartbreaking official messages, the dreaded knock on the door are worse than death for the family left behind, but the pride is indescribable when the ultimate sacrifice is required. Pictures, flags, jackets, medals, and a host of other memorabilia from now and years past become treasured items that separate a most special time for the individual and the family.
Some will talk about the experiences “over there” and others will not mention any details. A few will join great organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion. Others will spend a portion of their remaining lives scheduling appointments at veterans hospitals for various maladies caused by their time in the military. Some will be afflicted by physical wounds. The mental scars that wound many will not be as easy to see but often hurt as much or more than the ones on the surface.
At odd times, a sound or a scene will bring back awful memories to soldiers now physically far removed from the battlefields of their youth. When others in the family are sleeping, they will sometimes sit and stare into the darkness unable to forget a tragedy that might have happened a world away.
A former soldier or sailor, a seaman, a Marine, a combat pilot, a cook, a doctor or dentist in the military, a Coast Guard member who may have saved a life on a stormy sea, a National Guard officer sent in to rescue someone from a disaster like a flood or hurricane, all of these and more have their memories but they have also created memories for others. Perhaps more than our military folks will ever know, they are inhabitants of wonderful places in our hearts.
On this weekend and on Veterans Day this coming Monday, almost everyone will wave a flag either for real or silently in tribute. We will once again bring to the surface our regard and respect for the Army (1775), Navy (1775), Marines (1775), Coast Guard (1790) and Air Force (1947) who over the past 238 years have made all we see around us safe and secure so that we can sleep peacefully in our comfortable beds.
The commander of PT-109, a Navy officer who became the 35th president of the United States often said it best and he came through again with a thought about how America should feel today and every day.
In John F. Kennedy’s words, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by those it honors and remembers.”
God Bless America.
Larry Hype, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.