Veteran

Books like The Red Badge of Courage, or Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (don’t laugh because of the movie – go read the book!) give me glimpses into the experiences and the minds of men and women who make the transition from youth to adult, from civilian to veteran.  I’m grateful for those glimpses, because the word veteran always conjures in my mind images of people much older than I am.  My grandfathers were veterans of World War II.  People who fought in Korea and Vietnam are veterans.  But their service belongs to long-ago-and-far-away time and places, something I could never connect with but only respect.

It struck me today though that this is no longer the case.  As I flipped through the pages of Facebook to see what people were up to, there were thank-you notes to two of my classmates who served in the military.  Served.  Past tense.  One of my oldest friends served 20 years in the Navy before retiring honorably.  He’s a veteran.  Once – not so very long ago – he was the goofy kid in high school who wouldn’t stay in the city park after closing time because he didn’t want to do anything to affect his future military security rating.  Everything he did was aimed at his future life of service in the military.  Then one day he went off and lived that military life.   He became a veteran.

I know in vague terms that my friend had that life but once again I can’t connect, I can only respect.  I know he served in Desert Storm but I don’t really know what he did.  I don’t remember him talking much about it (undoubtedly to protect his security rating).  When we get together now he’s the same goofy guy that he was 25 ,30 nearly 40 years ago (we were both undoubtedly goofy that long ago, but we hadn’t quite met yet).  Like myself, he’s not as trim or hair-full as he used to, but he’s a veteran.  I’m just older.

Every Veteran’s Day we collectively thank and remember all the goofy guys – and gals – of our respective generations who are veterans.  But for the first time today I realized I have additional faces to thank. I don’t have to think only in sepia tones or black and white prints or gritty color footage.  I can thank my friend who planned to fly combat airplanes someday yet couldn’t keep his car away from mailboxes.  I can think of the young woman I knew from across a classroom in freshman honors English, who went on to serve not just our high school as a cheerleader but our nation in the Army.   I can think of the young man from our campus ministry who settled – a little later than others – on a life in the military and continues to serve.

I am thankful for each of them, even if belatedly.  Thankful for who they are and what they have done and how, in ways large or small and impossible to tell from this historical vantage point, they enabled me to be who I am and do what I do.

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