A few years ago, I was waiting in the checkout line at The Home Depot and saw an elderly man slowly shuffle out of one of the aisles and make his way, along with his wife, to the checkout.
As always seems to happen, I had picked the slow line and the couple was through long before I was even close to the cashier. I waited and eventually made my purchases, all the time thinking about that elderly man.
What was unique about him was he was wearing a ball cap that gave away the fact he was a WWII veteran and his age was an indicator as to the accuracy of my observation. As I exited the store, I saw him and his wife climbing into their minivan, parked in the handicapped-accessible parking spot at the front.
Without a thought, I immediately headed for the van, where he was in the driver’s seat with the window down. I waved, smiled and called out “hello” a few feet before I got there so as not to startle them, and then I approached the open window and said, “Sir, I just wanted to thank you for your service to this country.” The darkest night would be no match for how their faces lit up and the both of them could not thank me enough for those simple words.
For about the past 10 years, I’ve been saving the occasional newspaper clipping about World War II veterans; a 2011 article after the passing of Easy Company commander Richard Winters, a 2012 article interviews the navigator and last survivor of the Enola Gay crew, a 2014 article interviews one of the four remaining veterans left from the famed Doolittle raid over Tokyo. The articles are getting fewer and fewer.
The papers are now beginning to fade slightly, just like the memory of World War II and the veterans who had such an immense impact on this world, so I’ve taken every opportunity in this last decade to thank them whenever I can. It’s now been a couple years since I’ve seen a veteran from that fight, but more recent conflicts have yielded their own veterans who are just as worthy of the same respect.
Memorial Day honors those who have died in service of this country, and although we missed out on the normal Memorial Day activities this year, I still thought about those for whom the holiday was created to honor.
It might be easy to overlook the meaning and just think of it as a good day for a cookout, but I like to think the best way we can still honor them is to honor those who made it through, whatever the war may have been. We as citizens may lose friends or family in a war, but veterans lose friends, family and fellow soldiers and they have to live with the grief of being there. For that, and for putting their own lives on the line and defending our country, they deserve our respect.