In honor: Special salute

Over the past few years, we’ve read stories about local veterans who did their duty when called by their country. Some joined; others were drafted. No matter their reason, these brave veterans did their job and kept the United States free in the face of enemy threats.

Freedom of speech is only one of many freedoms we possess. Veterans are honored for their service in many ways. Our country puts aside two days a year: Memorial Day to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and Veterans Day for those who did their duty and then came home.

Another way we honor our veterans is by attaching a military grave marker to each of their headstones. The military honors these men and women in life by awarding them medals and ribbons. These decorations let others know what their recipients accomplished. Hollywood even honors our veterans, by producing movies that are interpretations of major battles and putting them up on the big screen.

Hallmark makes specific birthday and greeting cards for each branch of military service. Banks offer credit cards with military logos. We see bumper stickers and hats honoring POW and those who went MIA.

Most veterans, including myself, feel that we just did our jobs and fulfilled the promises we made to our country at the time of enlistment. We didn’t know at the time that we were doing things to change the world; authors of history books written years later seem to be the ones to decide that.

I have chronicled close to 200 stories of local veterans, and I consider myself honored to have done so. Some of these veterans’ stories hadn’t been told to anyone before they were recounted to me. Some wives and children didn’t even know the legacies of their loved ones. I got taken back in time with these brave servicemen, back to the European and Pacific theatres of WWII, back to the jungles of Vietnam, aboard ships and in helicopters and inside military hospitals.

One of the many stories I will never forget involved Pearl Harbor. The veterans gave me so many details that I got to go there in my mind. I was there, I went back in time to Dec. 6, 1941. I also “visited” the USS Missouri in August of 1945. It’s now my responsibility to keep these stories alive and to share them. These veterans deserve better than to let their stories dry rot in attic trunks or mildew in damp cardboard boxes. We need to keep them dusted off, in the light, so that future generations can know where and who they came from, and so that they can continue to be grateful to the men and women who granted them their many God-intended freedoms.

In addition to being honored that so many men and women have shared their stories with me, I am also honored on Veteran’s Day and whenever someone sees my unit’s hat and says “Thank you for your service.” A veteran can ask for no more than a simple “thank you” or “welcome home” or “your service is appreciated.” This acknowledgement makes life good. It makes being a veteran okay. It makes a veteran proud.

It was a beautiful October day and we were still in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area. My wife was working hard to get things organized – cleaning, packing bags and doing things that needed to be done before we could leave for our winter home in Florida. I was feeling good, thinking about the drive to Florida and keeping my fingers crossed that the drive across the Eastern part of the United States would be calm for the next few days. That wonderful October day was about to change, but not for the worse.

This feeling is hard to explain. My car was parked in the Tops plaza. I have no military decals on my car, but on my Florida license plate are the words “Combat wounded veteran.” A person named Lindsay then did something to thank me for my service. It changed my outlook on Americans. Lindsay took away some of my survivor’s guilt from having returned home alive from Vietnam when so many of my close brothers did not. Lindsay, who I did not know and had never met, made me think it wasn’t all for nothing. She took away all those bad feelings. She took a wonderful day and made it better. She did all of this by leaving a note on my car. Here is what it said:

I don’t know you, and you do not know me and we may never meet. I wanted to say thank you for your service. My grandfather fought in WWII in the 82nd Airborn. He taught me a lot and the most important thing was to appreciate our armed forces. Thank you so much and have a wonderful day.

– Lindsay

I could never express the real feelings I have from reading Lindsay’s note. It has touched me in a way no one could explain. If you know this girl who spells her name “Lindsay” please tell her how much her note meant to me. Also tell her I would love to hear about her hero, her grandfather who served our country in the 82nd Airborn.

A note on a piece of tablet paper is all it takes to let a veteran know that his or her country cares. Our hero of the week is a girl named Lindsay.