For two weeks now I’ve planned to write about the election. For two weeks thoughts have been running through my head about the need to inform ourselves about our local races, and the need for civil discourse. And now that I’m sitting here putting my thoughts to “paper,” I can’t do it.
I can’t bring myself to delve into all the nastiness and negativity of politics, especially since as an employee of a news organization who deals frequently with our very opinionated readership (my “day job”), I get an earful every day. And believe me when I tell you it’s not pleasant. Most days I’d rather just forget these exchanges, not memorialize them in a blog!
So how appropriate that my answer on what to write came with delivery of Sunday morning’s newspaper. Inside was a special 16-page Veterans Day section honoring a dozen of the men and women in our community who have served in the armed forces.
The stories are all different – from a 99-year-old WWII vet who served in the Himalayas, to a young woman, a native of South Carolina’s low country, who left home at age 18 to travel the world with the Air Force, to a 33-year-old Special Forces veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. Yet there is one commonality: Each expresses a love of country and pride in serving.
The WWII vet endured difficult living conditions as an engineer traveling from North Africa to Burma, had to jump in fox holes to survive air raids, and was subjected to daily doses of propaganda courtesy of "Tokyo Rose," but came home to his family unscathed.
The young woman who left her home in South Carolina talks about life in the military as a woman. In the lower ranks, she was surrounded by women and experienced little difficulties, but as she advanced in rank, ran into occasional roadblocks from men who weren’t thrilled at having to take direction from a woman. Now, 35 years into her career, she says a decision that started as a way out of a small-town existence became her life. Another woman vet tells about the fight to integrate women, to get VA benefits for women, and to construct a memorial near the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery that honors the 3 million women who have served.
There are several stories of Vietnam vets, stories of evading patrols of Viet Cong, suffering disabling injuries, surviving mortar attacks and coming home to a less-than-welcoming public and the cries of “Baby Killer.” It was an era I experienced as an adolescent, and some of my memories are still vivid. I remember a class trip to Washington, D.C., stepping off the bus on Pennsylvania Avenue into a crowd of Vietnam protesters. I remember seeing terrible things on the news, like people spitting at the returning veterans. I was old enough to process and understand why so many were against our involvement but also old enough to believe the individual soldiers (many of whom were drafted) shouldn’t have been treated like pariahs when returning home, especially by their own countrymen. Years later, I visited the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. and came upon a reunion group. When I thanked them for serving (all choked up and teary-eyed), I got a big hug of thanks in return.
I got all choked-up and teary-eyed again reading these stories. I think about their individual sacrifices. I think about their families who have sacrificed as well–raising children alone, dealing with returning soldiers who have terrible injuries, both physical and emotional, all so that our rights and privileges would be protected.
And that’s when I figured out what to say about Election Day. Here it is:
And come Saturday (Veterans Day), maybe see what’s going on in your community to salute those who serve.
Here's a salute to the men in my family who have answered the call.
For those reading this who have served (or are serving) or are the family of a service man/woman -- thank you.
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