I am thankful for the appreciation I was shown at work today as a veteran.
I wore a “Vet Vest” that I made from an old BDU shirt (tore the sleeves off) and pinned/sewed the memorabilia of my military experience on it. I initially did the “wear your medals with pride”: thing at the request of the Secretary of the VA several years ago, following the practice of veterans Down Under who wear theirs on Anzac Day, primarily so that a grateful populace would be able to express their gratitude. Cool.
I also should admit that there was a bit of pride involved as well; I’m no war hero by any stretch of the imagination, but I served honorably, faithfully and with some distinction: looking over my “I Love Me Wall” material, I found that I tended to receive a citation for dedication/hard work/yada, yada, yada, about every 3-4 months and a commendation/medal about every 18 months over a nearly 19 year time span. Not bad for a logistics computer programmer during a time frame with no armed conflict to speak of. I enlisted in 1980 and ETS’d (got out) just prior to the 10 day Gulf War in 1990.
The Secretary recommended that we wear our medals/ribbons on “Patriotic holidays”: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veteran’s Day.
Thus I have done. Initially, as noted above, for the benefit of those we served, that they might find tangible targets for their thankfulness. Then a bit more for the pride of accomplishment. But for the last couple of years or so, it’s really been for just me. A remembrance of some good times with some good people, lots of hard work and some satisfaction that what little bit role I played had some minor significance in the grand scheme of things. As a Cold War Era vet, I frequently find that because I did not have the “luck” to be in combat, my service doesn’t seem to count as much. And that is rant for another time and place.
So I am appreciative of the appreciation expressed to me by college students that weren’t even born when I mustered out of the service.
Actually, the most frequently asked question I got today wasn’t about my ribbons or marksmanship medals or unit crests or any of that. It was: “You’re really a veteran?” Or closely related: “You really served?” And the questions basically came in two flavors. One: curiosity and…awe? shock?…that veterans are real creatures and not some history class/book story/fairy tale. Two: Surprise that *I* was a vet; something they never would have guessed about me. I’ve been thinking about it most of the day and I realized that the curiosity/astonishment was most likely due to the fact that most of these kids have never known any veterans. A few are “military brat”s, with parents who served, but most of them aren’t in that category. Their parents didn’t serve, their grandparents didn’t serve, and most of their friends are in college–the ones that decided to serve are still in the service and aren’t veterans yet, and even so, probably have not been home at the same time for these college kids to reconnect. Their paths diverged in Frost’s Wood and the service members are on the road less traveled by.
Being wired as a teacher, I had a grand ol’ time telling stories about what i did and where I was stationed and so on, some students there hanging around for 30-60-90 minutes listening with rapt attention and others very patently frustrated that I wasn’t focused on helping them so they could move on to their study sessions this close to midterms prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. And some equally obviously wanting to stay and frustrated that they felt compelled to go study.
And I am very thankful and flattered that there were some of the kids that were genuinely interested in an old fart like me. I am thankful that they seemed to be blessed by the stories or something…
But I didn’t do it for them. Not the Vet Vest. Not the stories. I did it for me. So I can remember. Not just remember the good times and great people with whom I served, like I mentioned above, but remember who I was. The road less traveled that I took, The road that played a large role in shaping who I am today. While I am far from perfect: God knows! (And frankly so does everyone who knows me, or even simply follows my FB posts or catches the posts here…), I like who I am. Are there things I’d like to change? At the risk of sound rude: duh! That’s what this blog is all about, making some major, permanent changes.
Today was a great day. To all of those who expressed their appreciation for my service or wished me a Happy Veteran’s Day, my heart felt thanks! And a special thank you to the young man who sought me out to chat and say thanks (I was off to the side of the room eating dinner–he could have easily walked by…)
I’ve never been moved to post twice on the same day. I am thankful for that too.
There are rare days I feel completely useless and a waste of space and air.
Today was not one of them.