Two weeks ago I attended an old west re-enactment in a city near my home. Between skits, one of the re-enactors noticed I was wearing a hat that said “USS Midway,” which is a carrier that was in service from the end of WWII to 1991. It is now a museum in San Diego.
He asked if I was a veteran. Didn’t understand his interruption at first. As I asked him to repeat himself, I remembered the hat I was wearing.
“Are you a veteran?”
While in the Air Force, I had a job that was correctly and officially rated as “combat crew.” I was insulated by years and thousands of miles from anyone shooting at American troops. As proud as I am of my service, I do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as anyone in an American uniform who has been under enemy fire or even spent the night in a combat zone. Sitting in an underground bunker on the plains of South Dakota during the mild days of the Cold War is not even close to the same thing.
It takes too long to explain how removed I was from ever being in a combat zone and as a result I don’t consider myself a veteran. It would have dishonored his intent by saying I merely bought the hat in the Midway gift shop during a San Diego vacation. So since I was actually in a combat-rated job for 4 years, I merely said:
“Thank you for your service”, he said, shaking my hand.
Though I count myself unworthy of his appreciation, especially as I recall the exchange on today, Memorial Day, I mentally accepted his thank you on behalf of all the veterans who were not within his reach.
So, to all veterans, especially those who will not be given a verbal “thank you” today, I pass on that man’s thank you and hearty handshake. To you, the ones who have done the heavy lifting to provide for my freedom, I also say with deep appreciation, thank you for your service.
For those who paid the ultimate price, this other fellow and I am deeply, profoundly grateful. None of us can shake their hands.