The first beer I drank in public without looking over my shoulder was on a plane from St. Louis, Missouri bound for Tucson, Arizona, and it was one of the best ever. I don’t even remember what brand it was but it was how I got it that made it so special.
I had just turned 20 in basic training and was in transit to my advanced training post in Arizona with two other soldiers. We were in our dress green uniforms and feeling quite proud of ourselves. The pride we felt walking into the airport paled in comparison to what we would feel in the terminal and on the plane.
I graduated from basic training weeks after the first Gulf War ended in early April 1991. I enlisted thinking it was the thing to do when your country goes to war and honestly I was very ignorant of what that meant. Midway through basic training we stopped doing push ups and moving rocks long enough for an impromptu celebration of the victory in Iraq, but I was left wondering what was next with no war to go fight. As I have matured and grown up some I am grateful to have served in a time of peace and feel very fortunate to have not faced the struggles and losses of war many fellow veterans have been faced with in our history.
As the three of us walked through the airport terminal, we were greeted with smiles, thank yous and handshakes at every turn. Once on the plane we must have shaken two dozen hands as we made our way to our seats. A gentleman in front of us on the other side of the aisle turned around and offered to buy us a beer. We all looked at one another, smiled and like any young man might we said, “sure.” No one ever asked our ages, they just brought us a beer and let us enjoy it.
It was an incredible feeling to be so appreciated, and a humbling honor to be treated that way for really doing nothing of consequence.
Just after the war, anyone in a military uniform drew praise and gratitude from everyone. That is how we should always approach our service men and women. My dad believed in showing your respect for the nation, the flag and those who took the oath to defend them, and while I learned to be respectful in those moments growing up, it was not until I wore the uniform myself that I truly understood how powerful that appreciation could be.
Some of us did very little but wait and never be called upon to fight, but others sacrificed their lives, faced great perils or lost fellow soldiers along the way. It is good to see that today we continue to hold veterans in high regard and show our appreciation for their service – it has not been the case in every circumstance.
Veterans are the most interesting people. I have had the privilege of interviewing dozens of former service members about deployments ranging from World War II to Afghanistan, experiences from Pearl Harbor to D Day, driving tanks, living on submarines or jumping from airplanes. I am in awe of their experiences and how they view those harrowing times as just another part of life.
They are very proud of their service, but often hesitant to talk much about it. Without fail there is an incredible story to be told in each one. They have volunteered to sacrifice of themselves for all of us, and that is a very special gift. The United States would not be what it is today and we would not enjoy the freedoms and lives we enjoy without men and women always willing to serve.
Show your appreciation for veterans every day, but on Veterans Day – Nov. 11 – make a special effort to thank the veterans you know and meet. Ask them about their service and enjoy the stories they have to share. Some will make you weep, others may leave you astounded and still others might make you laugh hysterically.
Regardless of the story, the lives of these individuals are often interesting beyond your wildest imagination, and the experiences of their lives have made it possible for us to live ours as we do today.
The Hill Country News wants to share the stories of our veterans but we need your help. If you know of a former service member we should feature please let us know by calling 259-4449 or e-mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org with their name and contact information.