Salute to a Soldier

There are a lot of opinions about the military.  Hate them, love them, respect them. Why put so much money into them? Why are we fighting battles that aren’t ours? Why aren’t we doing more to aid countries that need assistance?  My own opinions have always been a little indifferent.  All my thoughts surrounding the military could basically be summed up as, “not me.”  Even when I found out that going into the military would pay for college the idea of having to fight in a war, which was an all too real thing when I was turning 18, always deterred me from any potential thoughts of joining the service.  That and I really didn’t like the idea of boot camp.  Who wants to be screamed at all the time?

That said, I’ve always had a deep respect for those that do go into the military – whatever their reason.  My father was a Marine at age 18 and in for about twelve years or so.  After that he went into the Army for another 10.  A total of 22 years in service to our country.  I’m not often extremely patriotic or even all that proud of our military men and women – I don’t generally think about it except when I hear about reports of soldiers dying in battle – but I am always proud of my dad.  Just hearing some of the stories he shares (often with a trace of humor that I’m sure is not only something he’s used over the years as a coping mechanism but that is something time and distance has allowed him to appreciate) about what he’s done is so impressive to me.

There’s the story of the 2-step snake – a snake so venomous that if you get bitten, you live for about two steps before the poison takes your life.  Apparently one was slithering around him and his commanding officer told him not to move.  Unable not to move, my dad jumped so high it was likely someone thought he had springs in his legs.  He moved away quickly and survived.  One of many times he’d narrowly escaped death while in Vietnam.

The time the helicopter he was in was crashing to the ground and all the men had to evacuate it – not all of them surviving.

The story he told us about the day he thought men were walking on water.  A young teenager sent to war, up on patrol with his fellow soldiers, sees the enemy walking on top of water that they were all swimming in just the day before.  They knew how deep it was, so how was it even possible that these men were literally walking on water?!  It turned out that there was a berm of rocks built up under it that the Vietnamese were walking on, but I can imagine the crazed thoughts of a young man, deep in the night and full of fear for his life – what black magic is this?!

Those are just stories of the war.  After that he went into typical military service and became a military police officer.  There are many things he did in the service that I don’t know about, but I do know he worked training military police dogs.  He told us a story once of someone around a military base attacking women and how they handled that.  One of them dressed as a woman and pushed one of their dogs around in a stroller.  I can imagine the horror and surprise of realizing that this was not the man’s next victim.  There’ll be no more violence against our women, thank you very much.

Keeping people safe, keeping our country safe, is what my dad did.  As part of counter intelligence, he once got to attempt to break into the hangars that house Air Force One and the presidential helicopters to try and plant fake bombs on the helicopters.  The goal of this was to see how long it would take for the security to detect and detain him.  This sounds like something from a movie to me.  This one is one of the most exciting stories to me – perhaps because no one is getting hurt.  Not to mention that espionage and cloak-and-dagger type stories have always been fun to read and watch.  But this was not fiction.  This was my dad, protecting a nation that didn’t really know he exists.

I share these stories with you to give you a sense of just one man in a sea of many that have worked tirelessly, often to their own detriment, to bring us freedom and safety – whatever your feelings on the matter.  Perhaps we didn’t need to go and fight certain wars (that’s certainly how I feel about it), but the fact is that we did anyway.  I share these stories with you because in just one day, in two separate locations, I saw a woman come up and interrupt our conversation to thank my dad for his service and a young man approach my dad and shake his hand to thank him.  What I really saw, though, was the quiet joy and pride light up his face that someone was acknowledging that work.  And I think it goes far beyond just acknowledging work – it’s more than just a job well done.  It’s an acknowledgement of all the fear, all the pain of lost comrades, the sounds of artillery and the heat and exhaustion of jungle, the hours of patrol on base, the efforts that went into keeping people like me (the people that have no desire to join or even otherwise think about the military) safe to the best of his ability.  An acknowledgement that, Sir, we do know you exist; we see you and we thank you.

I share these stories with you in the hopes that as you go shopping, as you drive around town and see the Veteran stickers on the bumpers of cars, you pause a moment and consider them as not a soldier, but a person. Consider what they might have done, what they might have felt, what they might still see in their dreams at night…and thank them, if you have that opportunity, because I can tell you that it will mean more than any “thank you” has ever meant.

***

Author’s Note:  This was written off a prompt to share the best thing that happened to me today.  Being that I write first thing in the morning the best thing that’s happened to me is that I actually did wake up, still breathing and alive.  Instead, I went to yesterday and the two occasions written of above.  Seeing my dad smile with pride warmed my heart and reminded me that I am proud as well.  I hope, whatever your views of the military, that this touched you in some way.  Thank you for reading.

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