November 1998

Thank God for the veterans, the reason I got to sleep in on a Wednesday in the middle of November.  If it weren’t for those apparently crazy old guys, I would have been denied the privilege of going to Denny’s at two a.m. the night before.  So, that must be the reason the holiday exists… or so I thought.

When I was in France this summer, I profusely objected to visiting an American graveyard in Normandy, where hundreds of World War II soldiers had been buried.  I thought it was pointless and morbid.  My parents found out my feelings on the subject, and began to tell me stories about the trauma that war can cause.

A friend of our family was very close to one of her male cousins growing up.  He had been described as a “fine young man;” he always got good grades, looked out for little children, and was just an all-around good person.  She viewed him as more of an uncle because of the age difference between them.  When she was in fourth grade, and he was eighteen, he enlisted to serve in the Vietnam War against his parents’ will.  Because he was an only child, the army had been unable to draft him, but he was patriotic, and defending his country was important to him.  He thought that he could serve well because he was strong and healthy, and so he was one of the first to enlist.

His body was also one of the first to return.

He became a paratrooper for the Green Berets, and was the leader of his battalion.  Unknowingly, his troops dropped into an enemy zone.  Most likely knowing that he would not survive, he sent his men out of the territory while he volunteered to stay back and hold off the enemy troops.

By his death, he saved the lives of every single one of his men.  He was granted a purple heart award for his courage, and never got to receive it.

Through this experience, my parents’ friend learned the seriousness of war at a very young age.  Her mother made her attend school on the day of her cousin’s funeral, and without knowing what had happened, her teacher asked her to lead the pledge of allegiance.  Ordinarily, she would have enjoyed the opportunity to do so, but on that morning, she looked at the flag and was able to see only her cousins face.  Unable to get through the pledge, she left the room in tears.

Our generation has had very little experience of the horrors of war.  The vast terror that we could be, but thankfully aren’t, experiencing gets left outside Denny’s while we enjoy our chance to sleep till noon.

Thank God for Veteran’s Day, a chance to remember the courage of those young men who faced pain and death.  If it weren’t for them, the world would not exist as we know it.

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