A lesson from Daddy’s boots

Published 5:23 pm Saturday, February 6, 2016

By Randy Forbes

As a young boy, I remember looking up to see a pair of daddy’s boots that sat on the shelf in his closet. To the average person, they may not have looked like much, but I thought those old boots were something else. I knew he wore them during his time of service in World War II guarding German prisoners.

I imagined him standing in them as he kissed my mother goodbye, only days after their wedding, to go to basic training. I imagined him wearing them as he headed to France in the wake of the Normandy invasion, just 19 years old at the time. Those boots had seen the dust and dirt of war. They defended the cause of freedom.

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Over the years, between attic reorganizations and spring cleanings we somehow lost track of those old boots, leaving me with only the memories I had as a boy.

When you lose something meaningful, you never stop looking for it. I searched for those boots over the years with no success. When my dad passed away, I looked harder. Tangible items that belonged to a loved one become even more valuable after they are no longer with us. For me, those boots were a symbol of the legacy Dad left for me — his service to our nation and his patriotism.

Recently, we moved my mother out of our family home and into a retirement community. Anyone who has gone through this process with a parent knows the work that goes into opening old boxes, packing up years’ worth of family photos, and sorting junk from valuables worth saving.

As I helped load the car, a neighborhood teenager helping us came out of the house with a tattered brown cardboard box. He set it on the pavement and returned inside to haul more boxes.

I walked over to the old box, knelt down and lifted the flaps. There in the bottom sat the boots – the ones Daddy fought in, the ones he knelt to pray in, the ones he walked through the front door of our home in. I was overwhelmed.

We talk a lot about veterans’ issues as a nation, but to many of us here in Virginia, “veterans” isn’t an issue area. It’s a person. It’s a grandfather who earned a Purple Heart. It’s a brother who has the best deployment stories and always seems to remember the joy in serving his nation. It’s a daughter who raised her hand in service to her country at the young age of 22. It’s a name on a wall. It’s a family legacy that stretches two, three, four generations deep. It’s an empty chair at the dining room table. It’s a pair of old boots.

For me, it is my dad. It’s also my son, Neil. Hampton Roads is home to approximately 82,000 personnel from all branches of the military. When we think of veterans’ issues, we don’t think of a topic for a presidential debate or an issue to be ranked in a priority list. We see faces and we remember stories.

As Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, veterans are at the top of my mind. Ensuring our heroes are equipped to successfully accomplish their missions and properly cared for when they return safely home is my greatest honor and privilege.

That’s why I won’t give up in the fight to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for the service it delivers to our nation’s heroes.

That’s why I’ve voted in favor of efforts to provide appropriate care for those veterans who experience mental health issues or PTS as a result of their service. It’s why I worked for five years to successfully establish a new Veterans Outpatient Clinic in the Fourth District providing better access to health care for the 85,000 veterans in the region.

And it’s why I worked throughout my service as a state delegate, state senator, and then U.S. Congressman to create and secure funding for the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery.

As we finished moving boxes out of my mother’s home, I came across another item. I held a black-and-white picture of Dad, looking into the camera, wearing the same boots I had just held in my hands. I felt overwhelmed with pride and a sense of duty.

There is no higher call for Americans than for us to defend our defenders and care for those who have borne the battle. I want to make my father proud. I want to make the men and women who wear our nation’s uniform proud. Their legacy defines us. Their sacrifices keep us free.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.