Local & State Voices

Veterans Day suddenly became very personal for me

Nearly 4,500 troops head home for the holidays after going through basic training at Fort Jackson in 2015.
Nearly 4,500 troops head home for the holidays after going through basic training at Fort Jackson in 2015. Observer file photo

While Veterans Day was officially Sunday, Monday is probably when many will actually recognize it because they get a day off. Congress designated November 11 as a national holiday recognizing the service of veterans in 1938. While I’ve always been grateful for the sacrifices made by veterans, my recognition has been limited to flying an American flag or occasionally attending a parade. Beyond that, I can’t say I’ve ever been fully aware of the meaning of the day or the sacrifices we honor. This Veterans Day and every one after will be different.

A few weeks ago, our son Jack left for basic training in the US Army. It was his choice and he seemed to make it with all of the calculus any parent would hope such an important choice would involve. The decision came from a mix of moral conviction and social utility. He said he wanted to serve our nation, learn to work with drones and see the world. When we initially learned of his plans we experienced a range of emotions, from extreme pride to extreme anxiety. Our little boy was all grown up and charting his path. And like so many before, our son wanted to serve his nation.

To me Jack is the prototypical soldier. He’s tough, scrappy and smart. And most importantly, he’s a survivor, which could come in pretty handy depending on his assignment.

Jack came to us at age 11 as a foster child. To say he had a rough childhood up to that point would be an understatement. He was wounded, distrustful and traumatized from things that he had no control over. As with all of our kids, we fell in love with him and since he literally had no other place to go, we decided to adopt him. The intervening years were hard and the healing slow. But heal he did.

I’ve heard it said that many young men and women enlist because they’re either running away from something or running toward something. I chuckle because I kind of think this aptly describes marriage as well. And I’m guessing for most of our vets their time in service forever marries them to the ideals of sacrifice, hard work and discipline. And without a doubt, it uniquely reinforces in them the true cost of freedom.

When I asked Jack if he was sure this is what he wanted to do, he responded in an unusually emotional way. He said, “Where else but in America can a boy like me end up with fathers like you?” While I’d like to think there are lots of other countries that could happen, maybe the bounty of America, afforded by sacrifice, is to credit. After all, in America who we are is the key to what we are. We are the poorly bred, the unclean and the refuse of other nations. And we will do anything we are damn well able to make something out of ourselves, if just given the chance. Our brothers and sisters in arms are the ones who protect that coveted chance. And since 1973 they’ve done so purely by choice.

So with heartfelt gratitude I’d like to thank all the young men and women who’ve left their families to wear our nation’s uniform. As for Jack, when we dropped him off to ship out to basic training, I hugged him for an extended time. He whispered in my ear, “Thank you for everything.” Trying not to cry, I don’t think I responded. For a lot of reasons I should have said, as I do now, “No Jack, thank you!”

Email: billy@billymaddalon.com