Blessings and honor

Published 8:03 pm Thursday, November 13, 2008

A blustery wind lifted the Stars and Stripes from the flagpole as the small crowd stood — some with hands over hearts and others giving crisp salutes — facing the flag.

Many of those attending Tuesday’s Veterans Day ceremony at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery were wearing caps that identified them as members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The military service others had provided to America was obvious by their bearing, by the pride in their demeanor as they looked at Old Glory.

Most were men, and most were in the twilight of their years. A few commented on the fact that the cemetery was fuller than it was last year. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that about 1,800 veterans die every day, and a large portion of those fought in World War II or in Korea.

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A few of us at the ceremony, including me, were not veterans. Two of my uncles served in Vietnam, and my grandfather was a gunner’s mate in the Navy during World War II.

I didn’t volunteer to join the armed services, and I was blessed to have been only 9 years old when our nation ended the draft in 1973, so I never had to worry about being conscripted into the service.

There was a time during my teen years when I thought I might like to join the Navy, but I didn’t have the discipline needed for military life, and at the time I was too immature to understand the honor involved in sacrificing a civilian life for a career in the service of one’s nation. By the time I finally did understand, I was too old to make an effective contribution.

I’ll never know the pride of standing with brothers-at-arms who shared the sacrifice of military service. But there’s a feeling that comes from just being around these heroes that seems almost like being a part of the brotherhood, if only for a few moments.

As I stood with my camera on Tuesday, looking for an image that would capture the pride and gratitude I feel for those who serve us all by risking their very lives to protect our nation, I remembered just how blessed I am to be an American citizen. I took a moment to thank God, and then I found a stooped, old man in a VFW hat, and I shook his hand.

Thank you again for your service, veterans.