In the last weeks, I considered remaining seated when veterans were asked to stand up to be applauded, both at Sea World and at my church. I feel a strange mixture of embarrassment, pride, gratitude, and cynicism when people thank me for my service. I did stand up for two reasons: I wanted my son, who was with me both times, to know that I am proud of my military service, and I wanted more Americans to realize that middle-age (okay, maybe a tad older than middle-age) women are vets, too.
Why were my emotions so mixed? For one thing, nobody thanked military members for their service when I joined a few years after Vietnam. An article in Military Officer, reporting on the phenomena of public support for military members, concludes that such support could turn on a dime. Recent Veteran Anne Marie Little expressed my feelings well, in her interview with Tom Brokaw:
You really don’t have to thank me. I signed up; I volunteered. I’m proud I did and it’s changed my life.
In an interview aired on the CBS show 60 Minutes, Medal of Honor winner Sal Guinta, like all recipients, claimed that he did what every person he was with would have done. He humbly called himself a “mediocre soldier,” and said, “. . . imagine what the great soldiers do.”
I think that many military personnel know people who gave more than we did for our country, especially those of us who never charged through the line of enemy fire (sorry, Guinta, I believe your mates would have done the same, but I also believe that act is extraordinary). Many times, it was just a matter of who was in which assignment and location and when.
Even if it embarrasses us, thank you for saying, “Thank you,” to veterans. Please take a moment today to remember anyone you know who died while serving in the military. Just in case you don’t know anybody personally, then help me remember the following members whose deaths haunt me.
Major Robert M. Meeks, Examiner Pilot at Charleston AFB, who taught me to be mindful of minimum altitudes, “. . . or you will fly into a mountain someday.” Then he flew into a mountain during a Special Operations training mission. I realized then, that no pilot is infallible. Our squadron lost its most experienced crew that day in 1982, including three members who often flew with me: Engineer TSgt Billy J. Canter, Loadmaster TSgt Daniel Vanarsdall, and Loadmaster Sgt. Jack C. Sweatman.
A very young loadmaster I frequently flew with, Airman Frank H. Scarton, just happened to be in the wrong place on a layover at Rhein Mein AB in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1985, when a terrorist bomb killed him. He was 19.
God bless their souls and their families.