May 28, 2017
I remember talking about Memorial Day and Veterans Day in high school. It wasn't until 3-4 years later some 28 years ago that I fully understood the difference between the two days of remembrance.
I live in a small tourist town. A lot of the action around here takes place around the Town Square. I had the day off and was running around town taking care of a few errands when I happened upon a gathering at the Town Square. I parked the truck and walked towards the gathering. I kind of filtered in through the group that was loosely assembled and found a spot that appeared to be front and center.
There was a podium set up in front of a memorial plaque in honor of all of the area residents that never made it home from the wars. To my right stood a very stoic gentleman in his mid 70's if I had to guess. He was dressed in his Air Force military dress uniform. It appeared to fit about as good that day as it must have fit decades earlier. His jacket was adorned with medals and ribbons, none of which I knew the meaning. The mans hair was high and tight, he was freshly shaved and looked as if he were ready to go at a moments notice.
Across and to my left stood another gentleman. He was about the same age and was wearing a different uniform. In front of him was his wife who was gently tugging at his lapels and brushing some debris from his jacket, making sure that he was squared away. Other men and women in uniform began to assemble. Civilians did as well. As the group grew to around 200-250 people, the Honor Guard presented the flag. Everyone in attendance snapped to attention but it was easy to pick the military folks from the civilians. The military people in attendance eye's were glued to Old Glory. They stood a little straighter and a little taller than the rest of us. As the Honor Guard took its place near the podium, a gentleman began to speak.
I have to admit, I don't recall a single thing this man said. I was taken by the moment. I don't remember feeling anything but awe as I stood among these military men and women. I had my hat in my hands. I looked at the ground for a minute in an attempt to bring myself back to what was currently happening. The gentleman to my right had a gaze on his face that didn't look as if it changed from the moment I first locked eyes on him. The other gentleman to my left had the same look, standing at attention.
Again, I looked down and then surveyed the crowd. At that moment, I knew I was witnessing something profound. Another man took the podium and began reading the names of the people memorialized on that plaque. As he did so, the gentleman to my left bowed his head for a brief moment. The man to my right took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. In each of their eyes, you could watch the emotions well up. And still, their eyes were locked in on the flag.
I've tried to recall some of what the speakers said. Either some of the names or some of the content before the names were read, but I can't do it. At the end of the memorial, there was a 21 gun salute (or something similar) and then we were all adjourned.
I looked across the group to the gentleman and his wife. She was staring in his eyes as she took his arm. The gentleman to my right turned on a dime and began to walk away and as he did so, a kid much younger than myself reached his little hand up to the old man and said, "Thank you for your service, sir." The old man nodded, smiled slightly and said, "You don't need to thank me. We're hear to thanks those people on that plaque" and he slowly but steadily walked away.
What I felt at that moment was very profound. Although I knew the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I had never witnessed the difference. Since that day, regardless of what I think politically or what I think about our being involved in foreign wars, I can't help but do what I can to honor those individuals on that plaque and all of the other people just like them.
Today marks the 1 year anniversary of me starting my genealogy research. I was adopted at birth. I have managed to track down my biological mothers side of the family but have not been able to track down my biological father, yet. In what was called "non-identifying information" given to me after I appealed to the adoption agency that facilitated my adoption, it is stated that my biological father was K.I.A in the Vietnam conflict. (It was common in those days for this to happen. Many did die, but it was easier for a pregnant, unwed mother to state that her boyfriend had been KIA in order to speed up the adoption process.) Just once I would have liked to look this man in the face and see if he had the same look.
With that said, my adoptive family had many who served their nation. They did have that look and I am proud to have known them. Now, most of them are gone but to honor them, I will spend my day tomorrow remembering them, their efforts and what they meant to me in my life as well as the people like the two gentlemen I mentioned above.
Peace be with you all.