Veteran’s and Service to Nation

Today is Veteran’s Day.

I realize this isn’t exactly a news flash for most people and yet somehow I feel as if it bears repeating. It is more than just a day off of work and more than flying the red and white stripes with pride. It’s remembering those who have served and the price they paid because

Service to nation is never free.

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Today is Veteran’s  Day.

For seven years, I was the spouse of a soldier. My ex-husband and I moved four times during those seven years. I gave birth to one baby on the west coast and another on the east coast, gaining my California Beach boy (almost exactly 13 years ago) and my Sweet Georgia Peach not quite two years later.  Additionally, we spent time calling Virginia and Texas home.

I’m grateful for all that those seven years of service gave me and taught me. From sea to shining sea, I got to spend time exploring our beautiful nation. Living in military housing afforded me the opportunity to meet a wide-variety of people from all walks of life. Their stories have stuck with me. Their friendships have blessed me. Today, as I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I am amazed at how many of my 700+ friends came from those seven years of military life. I wouldn’t trade that time and those experiences for the world!

And yet, there was a price to pay.  While I’d never blame military service completely on the failure of my first marriage, I do believe that frequent deployments and the stress of separation played a major part in the death of that relationship.

Unfortunately, the high stakes cost isn’t over yet. Nearly eight years later, my children, who will always suffer to some extent as they deal with the effects of growing up in a broken family, still pay the price on a daily basis. They don’t have the pleasure of regular visits with their father, as he is stationed in Europe.  (Though I must say, summer visits to Germany and Italy are giving them a chance to become world travelers in a way very few other children are privileged.)

Currently, their dad is temporarily deployed to Liberia in response to the Ebola epidemic. My kids worry about their dad, fearful of what might happen if he gets sick while trying to help out another nation. Protecting their hearts gets harder and harder as they grow older.

Service to nation is not free.

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Today is Veteran’s Day.

It’s always been an honor to say that my dad was a veteran.

My dad joined the army shortly after he and my mother were married. I recall him telling me that he knew he would soon be drafted, so rather than wait for the letter to arrive in the mail, he went to the recruiters himself. By doing so, my dad was able to finish college before leaving for basic training.

I used to love to listen to my dad’s tales about the Army. One of my favorites was how he used too tell about how once he was put in charge of an entire barracks of soldiers. He was responsible for the condition of the barracks (neatness and cleanliness) as well as knowing the whereabouts of all the soldiers assigned to that barracks. He had to report any that were not in by curfew and each morning at formation account for everyone.

Dad would always elaborate on how the other barracks were in such a disarray, with soldiers always out past curfew or not up in time to stand in formation. He would go into great detail about how the other barracks were full of fighting, drunken soldiers.

But not his barracks. Dad would proudly say that his group of soldiers were always on time. Their beds were made properly, uniforms sharply pressed,  the floors were mopped and the bathrooms kept sparkling clean. He said not one soldier ever missed a curfew and each morning they were all standing outside, perfectly in formation with their boots shining in the morning sun. In fact, for three or four months in a row, my dad received the award for the best barracks, earning the right to eat a private lunch with the Lt. Col., and honor that still thrilled my dad years later.

Of course, it wasn’t until after my father thought he had duly impressed us all with his amazing leadership abilities that he would let you in on the secret to his success.  You see,  the barracks under his leadership was entirely made up of a group of Mormons. (Later, during my years as a military spouse, I began to understand just exactly how patriotic and honorable Mormons as a whole are … and even shared a laugh with my dad over the fact that my ex-husband and I were often mistaken as Mormons during the years we spent as a military family.)

My dad was so proud of his military service. A couple of Christmases ago, my siblings and I gathered all my dad’s military patches and medals, and put them into a special display case. I wish I could say it was my idea. It wasn’t. It is my brother who deserves the credit.  I’m just grateful he included my sister and I, allowing us to share a part in giving the gift to my dad.  I don’t know that I’ve ever had more pleasure in watching someone open a gift than I had that Christmas when my dad opened up the display case with all of his military regalia. I thought my dad’s smile was going to burst the seams on his face!  For as long as I live, I will never forget that moment.

Yet as proud as my dad was …

Service to nation isn’t free.

Dad receiving a commendation in Vietnam
Dad receiving a medal and commendation in Vietnam

Today is Veteran’s Day.

My dad was once a soldier who served his nation during a time of conflict and war.  Though he returned home, my father long remembered the names of those he knew who gave their lives in protection of our nation’s freedoms.

When I was in high school, a touring replica of the Vietnam Wall memorial came to our area. My dad insisted we go view it. I could tell it was a solemn event for him, far more than a simple wall or just a group of names. He knew each one represented a real man who never came home. He understood the price these soldiers had paid.

My father didn’t die in Vietnam. Rather the war took nearly 45 years to kill him.

You see, during his one year in Vietnam, my dad was exposed to Agent Orange. If you look up the effects of Agent Orange exposition, the list is long.  Everything from cancer and other debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s to high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.  My dad experienced the last three, his first heart attack occurring in his mid-40’s. I think he had 3 more over the next 20 years. In the last year or two of his life, my dad’s heart functioned at just barely over 20% of full pumping capacity, yet he continued to wake up each day and live a full life.

Several years ago, my father began to receive a full veteran’s disability from the U. S. government as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange. While he was open and honest about the fact that he had suffered from effects of the exposure and was receiving compensation, my dad never once complained to me (or to anyone else that I am aware of) about those resulting consequences.

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Today is Veteran’s Day.

I’m thinking of all the veteran’s I’ve known and loved. My two grandfathers who both served the nation during WWII, my husband’s father and brother, a couple of cousins, the myriad of friends I’ve made during my years wandering the nation’s military bases as the wife of a soldier.

So many people have given their time, and some their very lives, to protect our freedoms and rights as Americans. I think it is important to remember that service to nation is never free. The cost is there and paid by each one … and I’m so grateful.

May God bless our veteran’s … each one who serves or continues to serve!

And may we never forget to count the cost because their service to nation is never free.

A Memorial Day Memory

Fourteen years ago, I spent another Memorial Day saying goodbye to my grandfather.

V. E. “Red” McGee died May 27, 2000 from cancer.  It always seemed rather fitting to our family that my grandfather was buried on Memorial Day that year. He was a WW II veteran, having enlisted in the Navy with his parents’ permission shortly before his 16th birthday so that he could be stationed with his older brother.

Red McGee (left) with a Navy pal during WWII
Red McGee (left) with a Navy pal during WWII

Daddy Red, as my siblings and cousins and I called him, was a quiet man with a deep faith and a great sense of humor.  But whenever I recall him, the thing I remember about him was his love. He had:

~a love for God … for reading the Bible, prayer, dedication to the body of believers to which he belonged, and serving others

~a love for his wife … I still recall how he brought her coffee in bed most mornings, kept her car filled with gas, and showered her with affection in a hundred little ways

~a love for his family and friends …  children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, siblings … my grandfather loved spending time with those he loved

~a love for America and our freedoms … he was proud of his service to his country

~a love of nature and God’s creation  … whether it was hiking or hunting, or just taking the scenic route

~a love travel … my grandfather drove his RV to 49 states, Canada and Mexico, often stopping to help build churches  (with the Volunteer Christian Builders) along the way

~a love for ice cream … particularly Blue Bell ice cream. (I loved visiting my TX grandparents because Daddy Red believed in ending each day with a big bowl of ice cream, and the freezer was always stocked with more flavors than I ever knew existed.)

~and a love of laughter  … often when I remember the days I spent at his house as a child, I recall the gentle sound of his laugh, followed by a hearty “Boy Howdy!”

My grandfather would have likely laughed at his own funeral service. As a veteran and member of the local VFW, he had a flag draped over his coffin. Toward the end of the service, several veterans came forward to fold the flag and present it to my grandmother. They solemnly removed the flag and began to fold it, but halfway through realized it wasn’t going to end the way it should look. The veterans unfolded the flag and began to fold it again, only to discover they had the same results. I’m not sure how many times they folded and unfolded and folded that flag, but it seemed to go on forever. Somehow, those men finally got around to getting the flag folded. And each time I remember the scene, I giggle a little and somehow feel it was fitting for my grandfather who loved a good laugh while he lived.

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Today is Memorial Day. It’s a day of remembering, especially those who served in our military and honoring those who gave their life.

Like so many days throughout the year, I think about my grandfather on Memorial Day.  He was veteran, a proud American. a family man, a hard worker who lived a full life. More importantly,  he was a man of faith and I’m blessed to have been his granddaughter.

The memory of the righteous will be a blessing. ~Proverbs 10:7

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Who are  you remembering today? How is their memory a blessing to you?