Almost every year since I have worked for the Daily Globe I have attended a Veteran’s Day program somewhere. Having a husband, a father, several uncles, two grandfathers and a cousin who are veterans, the ceremonies never fail to bring a lump to my throat.
My husband Eric was in the U.S. Navy for 10 years, so for the first decade of our marriage we lived on naval bases or in military towns. During that time, we met sailors and soldiers who ended up giving their life for their country, so the sound of Taps always makes me tear up. For the last several years he was in the Navy, Eric served as a Company Commander, and I tried to attend as many of the graduation ceremonies as I could. I loved the pomp and circumstance of them, liked watching the young boot camp graduates be surrounded by proud parents afterward, and was extremely proud to be the wife of a military man, even when it was hard. And believe me, at times it was very hard.
When Daily Globe editor Ryan McGaughey asked me if I would attend the program at Murray County Central this year because an elderly veteran was receiving his high school diploma, I was quick to agree.
I enjoy the programs. I like seeing the VFW and American Legion members in their uniforms. Most of the men in the ceremonies are elderly, yet when asked to bear a flag they stand a little taller. Their actions are quick and sharp, and seeing their pride as they rise for their song makes me proud to be an American. I am humbled in their presence.
For those who have never attended such a program, let me explain the song. A band or choir usually performs the Armed Forces Medley, with one song for each branch of the service (“Off We Go” for the Air Force, the “Army Goes Rolling Along” for the Army, etc.) Each veteran stands while the song for his or her branch of the service is played. It’s my favorite part.
To my surprise, Eric asked me the other night if he could go with me Wednesday. (Usually he is at work when the programs take place, but he’s currently off work after being injured a while back.)
We walked into the gym at MCC and saw the high school band getting set up. A few minutes later, choir students began to filter in. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about this. My son Matt, who is a junior at MCC and in the choir, looked up and saw us in the audience and was immediately puzzled. I could read his lips as he turned to a buddy and said, “My mom and dad are here.”
Half a gymnasium apart, Matt and I had a quick conversation, though no words were spoken.
“Why are you here?” he gestured, glanced at Eric, then glanced back at me. “And why is DAD here?”
I gestured at the flag, nodded my head toward his dad, then held up my notebook and pen. I saw his face clear. Message received. Mom is working, Dad is a veteran.
When the band and choir began to play the medley, I watched the veterans stand. When “Anchors Aweigh” started, Eric gave me a slightly sheepish look and stood.
Then I had another teary moment as I realized my son was singing the words and watching his dad while my husband stood and received his recognition as a veteran.
Matt was only two years old when Eric left the service – too little or not yet born when the uniform came and went daily or for months at a time. I don’t know if any of our time in the military is very real to Matt. But I think, in that moment, after talk of sacrifice, honor, oaths and fortitude, it was.
I know it was for me.
To all veterans past and present and future, you have my utmost respect. For stepping up to fight, defend and protect, you have my heartfelt thanks.