Last month, in our small little county, in a rural patch of Appalachia, a soldier came home.
He came home to a hero’s welcome. Crowds lined both sides of a 40 mile stretch of the highway from the airport to town. Banners were hung from businesses, people were dressed in red, white and blue, waving flags both large and small.
I’ve never seen such an overt display of patriotism in my life. Not even on the Fourth of July. Sometimes, I think, much like Christmas, the importance and meaning of Independence Day or Veterans’ Day is lost on most people. I confess, I’ve often just passed it off as another day that there is no mail or the banks are closed.
Let’s face it, we don’t celebrate this holiday with parades much anymore. Scores of WWII and Korean War veterans are no longer living. Vietnam vets still harbor bad feelings about that war and their perception of the support for their service. Many veterans of the Gulf War, as well as the War on Terror, are just busy making a living, raising families, and even still serving. Most years, because if there are Veterans’ Day ceremonies, they aren’t publicized in many places beyond the VFW hall, it plays out as just another day.
Several years ago, I watched “Saving Private Ryan” and it changed the way I looked at Veterans’ Day. My grandfather fought in the European theater during WWII and while he wasn’t part of the Normandy Invasion, I’m certain he saw things no one should have to see. The movie opened my eyes to war. I felt differently about those who served. And I felt differently about the cost of freedom.
But nothing brought it home like that day last month when a soldier came home.
When Marine Lance Corporal Frankie Watson came home, he came home in a casket.
I saw with my own eyes what freedom is really about. I saw that not everyone who fights for my rights and privileges as an American comes home to their loved ones. And even though I didn’t personally know Frankie – although I know enough people that did – it hurt. It still does.
I can’t even imagine how it hurts the families and the friends and the brothers-in-arms who lose a loved one in combat.
But then, it must hurt too, when a soldier who put his or her life on the line, and maybe lost a buddy or two, or lost eyesight or a limb, comes home without a hero’s welcome.
Because they most assuredly deserve it.
Thank you to all who have served and are serving your country. What you do matters…. more than you know.
May God bless you for your sacrifices and dedication each and every day.