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Over the weekend, pastors and public speakers across America said, “Monday is Veterans Day…” as veterans in the crowd muttered to themselves, don’t make me stand up, don’t make me stand up. Seconds later, my priest added, “so if all the veterans could stand up — and come to the front.”
Veterans Day is a wonderful and needed celebration, but it’s odd for a lot of former servicemembers. We leap at honoring our fallen brothers and sisters on Memorial Day but blanch at seeking attention ourselves. We made it through, after all; we know many, many others weren’t so lucky.
Plenty of vets did regular jobs far from danger. The sergeant who monitored radar outside of Minot, ND, the petty officer who handled shore patrol in Crete, the guy who refueled cargo planes in Guam — these jobs are necessary but hardly heroic.
I specialized in non-heroics, operating the reactor on a sub out of Pearl. My thrilling adventures involved reading meters and twiddling knobs in the ass-end of a boat. We did our share of tracking enemy shipping in undisclosed waters, yet comparing my experience to sweaty 18-year-olds on a WW2 diesel sub skirting depth charges in the western Pacific? More than a little humbling.
Same for the Marines of Fallujah, bomber pilots over Dresden, and the hundreds of thousands of other heroes in conflicts throughout the years. When I’m asked about veterans, those are the people I think of.
In turn, the former tankie who saw action in Iraq thinks of his paratrooper buddy who didn’t make it back. Don’t remember our service, think of his.
Most vets just joined, did our jobs, then got out and did new jobs. Being honored for that is nice, but still makes a lot of us feel sheepish.
I guess I’m a hypocrite on this. Some of the other guys who stood up at the front did see action, and I was eager to hide behind them, slap their backs, and thank them for their actual service. Same as when I run into a guy wearing a Vietnam service cap at a restaurant or a young kid in uniform at the airport.
This Veterans Day, I honor all the servicemembers who did more than I did — which is damn near all of them. Your service allowed me to have a peaceful enlistment and a peaceful life ever since. Stand up, come to the front, and accept the praise due you. I’ll just hang out in the back of the boat and monitor the applause meter.Published in