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A Silver Star Thank You

A funny thing happened on the way home after an authors’ panel.

I’d just finished a conversation with best-selling novelist, Diane Chamberlain, enjoying a rush of excitement that comes after chatting with someone you admire. Walking through a parking lot at Cameron Village to meet my daughter, I spied a license plate with Silver Star for Gallantry posted on it. As I kept walking by the car, I thought, “Wow. That’s pretty special.”

The Silver Star Medal is awarded to servicemen for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.

I dug into my pocketbook for a pen and pad and wrote, “Thank you for your service.” I’ve never done that before. I feel a little strange saying five easy words to people who’ve sacrificed home and family, experienced life and death situations, and endured hardships that test emotional, physical, and spiritual strength. Yes, a thank you is nice but in no way compares with their effort.

On Sunday, however, I decided to turn around and leave the note. As I raised the windshield wiper to secure the paper, I heard a woman’s voice ask, “Is that your car?”

I glanced up to see a distinguished looking couple advancing toward me. The gentleman locked eyes with me and nodded.

Busted.

Embarrassed, I slid the note from under the wiper, and said, “Well, I’ll just hand it to you.” As he read the note and smiled, I stepped back, wanting to get away, wanting disappear. I’d meant the note to be an anonymous act of gratitude. He looked up and thanked me for it, but I didn’t want to be thanked for writing a quick, little note.

More embarrassment.

I explained I’d seen the notation on his license plate and confessed, “I didn’t think I’d be caught red handed.” I stepped forward, shook his hand, and said, “thank you,” again.

Then I decided to share, to try and explain that his service really did mean something to me, that I wasn’t just passing along a trite expression like “Have a nice day.” I told him, “I wasn’t expecting to be a military mom, but I have a son in ROTC at UNC-Chapel Hill and a son at West Point.” He said, “And does that make you apprehensive?”

I hesitated just for a second before admitting, “No, because I pray every day for them.” His companion started clapping. “Yes! That’s right. We have to pray for our people in uniform.” We chuckled. I thanked him again and finally completed my get away.

The veteran seemed genuinely happy with the note. I left him staring at it, smiling.

I’ve written before that words are powerful, that they make a difference. And now I know even trite ones, even easy ones can be special, too. A “thank you” says, “I noticed you. You made a difference in my life. Your effort counts.”

Pass along a “thank you” when you have a chance.

Who needs one today?

Veterans’ Tribute

Day is done. Gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well. Safely rest.
God is nigh.

Those are the lyrics to the first verse of Taps. The words are beautiful, and I loved singing them every week at the close of my Girl Scout meeting.

The melody, however, is a different matter entirely. The melody, though beautiful, has a haunting quality, especially when played by a bugler at the end of a military funeral while mourners gaze at the flag-draped coffin.

Last month, I replayed that scene three times in a span of ten days when my hometown received three hard blows in quick succession. We lost three genuine heroes from World War II, Lt. Col. William Joseph (Bill Joe) Sugg, Sr. (Air Force, Ret.), James Arthur Peace (Army), and Col. James Edward (Red) Smith (Air Force, Ret.).

Mr. Bill Joe was a B-17 co-pilot, survived fourteen months in a German POW camp, and participated in the Berlin Air Lift. During his twenty-two years of service, he earned many medals and commendations including a Purple Heart.

Mr. James earned five battle stars for participation in the European theater including landing on Utah Beach with the Normandy invasion on D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge.

Col. Red’s impressive military career included serving in WWII as well as Vietnam and serving five years on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His numerous medals include the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After serving their country during wartime, these men came home and continued to serve in their hometown with involvement in their churches as well as community organizations. Mr. Bill Joe volunteered with the Lions Club as member and as an officer. Mr. James was a Shriner, a Princeton volunteer fireman and a Town Councilman. Col. Red was a member of the Lion’s Club and volunteered for several years with the Babe Ruth baseball league and with the Princeton Veterans Committee.

These men didn’t rest on their laurels and certainly didn’t tout their achievements. They weren’t part of the Me Generation. They were members of the Greatest Generation, and my town was blessed to have them.

Yesterday, I visited in the hospital with my great uncle, Leon Howell who’s battling pneumonia. He was stationed on the USS Vega at Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. Yes, that’s right—a Pearl Harbor survivor. His story is available at http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/10470226. (The title is Garner Resident Remembers Pearl Harbor.) I’m considering making a sign—Pearl Harbor Survivor—to hang on his door so that people will know they’re caring for a hero.

Much discussion has centered on WWII veteran, Louis Zamperini lately. I’ve read his fascinating biography, Unbroken, and seen the movie adaptation. In fact, the book should be required reading for every American citizen.

Mr. Zamperini was a great American, no doubt, but we don’t have to read a book or watch a movie to find out about real American heroes. Many members of the Greatest Generation are still living among us. We still have time to visit with these people, listen to their stories, learn about real history—say, “thank you.”

Who’re the heroes living near you?

Find out.

Go visit.

They’ll be so happy you did.

And you will, too.

Fourth of July Thoughts

July 4th. Three days since we left Quinn at West Point sporting his first, free haircut. I’ve shed a few tears, yes, but I think I’ve done pretty well.

I’ve left children at college before. I’ve felt the pull of the heart. I’ve experienced the unsettling feeling that our box set has been broken, not worth quite as much as the original. I know this idea isn’t true. It’s the melodramatic musing of a mother who is learning about new family dynamics. But still.

Leaving a child at West Point (or any of the service academies) isn’t the same as leaving a child at college. The leaders of these New Cadets who are experiencing Basic Training (or Beast) right now are busy changing these young men and women from civilians to military people–military people who will serve in the military after graduation, not start climbing the corporate ladder at a Fortune 500 Company.

Yes, I’ve managed to hold back most of my tears, but today was a weepy kind of morning. Maybe my tears surfaced because of the patriotic posts that popped on my Facebook feed. Maybe it was the saber-like pain in my right shoulder that my chiropractor attributes to stress from last weekend. (You think?) Or maybe it was the fact that I had written exactly one word on my way towards my 1500-word goal for today.

Whatever the reason, this morning was just a touch soggy in my office. That’s okay. I remind myself that Quinn is where he wants to be, that we’ve prayed all over his future (along with his siblings), that I’m proud that he loves his country and wants to serve like the veterans he admires.

It’s good. It’s good. It’s good.

Happy 4th of July!