When our children were young, they loved to visit the home of one relative who had served in Vietnam.
There was little about the home that stood out as anything but ordinary, except in the basement where the children always played.
There they found an Army helmet with a bullet hole. Right in the center. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that whoever was wearing that helmet didn’t survive that bullet hole.
They asked the relative about the helmet. He refused to tell the story of the helmet, including whether or not it had been his. The kids had heard that this relative spent some time in a prisoner of war camp, but not from him.
They wanted him to fill in the holes, so to speak, of his life during that time. They wanted to know what life was like for him, what he experienced and how it impacted his life.
He steadfastly refused their requests. And does so to this day.
Which in itself is quite telling. Whatever he went through there, it has impacted his life to the point he cannot or will not speak of it to this day. Although it has been 40-plus years, it can be yesterday to him.
Likewise, I met a man several years ago who had served in World War II. His unit was bombed one night, and he and one buddy were the only survivors. He told me that although he was 80-plus years old, he still woke up many nights in a cold sweat with the sound of dropping bombs playing in his nightmares.
Like the Vietnam experience, this World War II saga had happened decades ago. Both soldiers had seemingly readjusted to life at home. Both built good lives for themselves and provided for their families. Both achieved levels of accomplishment in their chosen fields and looked as ordinary as the rest of us.
But they weren’t.
You see, both joined the ranks of veterans, which makes them stand apart from those of us who never served our country in a military sense. They have seen things and made choices in their lives that many of us cannot fathom. And they did it to protect us. To allow us to go through our daily lives not often thinking of the sacrifices made for us to be free.
I always read the stories in The Lima News on Mondays featuring veterans. Men now aged, they always remember vividly the faces and events that shaped their lives all those years ago. Men and women who saw things in combat that many of us can never imagine. It amazes me that these veterans were still teenagers when these life-altering events happened to them.
And now I look at a nephew of mine eager to join the Marines. It has been his dream since he was a little guy, and he hopes to begin basic training very soon.
His parents are concerned. His grandparents are concerned. I think if the truth were known, he’s a little concerned, too. But he pushes that concern to the back of his mind because he wants to serve his country.
Just like his grandpa who served during the Korean War.
Just like our relative who served in Vietnam.
Just like the World War II veterans we read about in Monday editions of The Lima News.
Men and women who serve in far away lands. Men and women who face customs and thoughts foreign to them in countries they’ve only read about in school books. Men and women who are willing to put their life on the line for the freedom that this country stands for.
Because of them, we are here today.
Because of them, we can worship where we choose.
Because of them, we can speak freely.
Because of them, we can vote.
Take time this Veterans Day to think about those who served, and how our world has been impacted.
Because of them.