As we fire up our grills this weekend, head to the beach or catch that parade, let's not forget the reason we have a three-day weekend.
It can be easy to do just that if we don't know someone who is in the military, or we haven't seen the sacrifices they've made first hand. Although I have cousins who have served their country, I have two currently in the Army and Marines, it was way before then that I learned to appreciate sacrifice.
When I was a reporter in Georgia, one of my first assignments was to interview two elderly gentlemen who had served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The movie "Saving Private Ryan" had just come out and the daily newspaper wanted me to get the veterans point of view. The brothers delved into their experiences overseas, especially their part in helping to rebuild the Irrawaddy Bridge in Burma. They spoke so proudly of their time there, getting somber only when remembering friends who perished over there. This was actually the first time in my life I had ever spoken to any World War II veteran so I couldn't fully appreciate their reflections- yet.
Two year later I found myself working at a nursing home and it was here that I really got to understand what soldiers sacrifice. I was interviewing Blanche, a woman in her 80s, who I always found quiet and kept to herself. Blanche began to tell me how a persistent suitor finally got her to fall in love and marry him in the early 1940s. Soon after they were married Blanche got pregnant and had a son. Her husband, like so many at that time, enlisted leaving his new family to serve as a proud member of the 82nd Airborne Division. The couple wrote to each other often, telling each other how they would be together soon enough when the war was over. On June 6, 1944, Blanche's husband was one of thousands who were part of a secret assault, the Normandy Invasion. She got a letter two weeks later that her husband was missing in action and presumed dead. Nearly 60 years later, Blanche still looked devastated remembering the life that could have been. Though she later remarried and divorced, she still carried the scars of a widowed soldier's wife. Her husband, and her family, truly did give the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
Six months before 9-11 I went on a trip to France with my husband and his family. Normandy was on our itinerary and if it wasn't for Blanche's story and this trip I never would have come to fully appreciate our veterans. As I stood on Omaha beach looking at the wounded landscape, I was humbled by the many lives lost on the beach so many years ago. When I walked through the American Cemetery, I was overwhelmed by the thousands of headstones stretching on to the horizon. Though this trip was not as glamorous as going to Paris, it was the best part of it. I learned a lot more from that trip and Blanche, than I ever did in a textbook. But make no mistake, though these brave soldiers sacrificed so much, our soldiers today have also sacrificed.
We may not all agree with the politics in this country, or why our troops are serving in the Middle East, we certainly owe it to our soldiers to give them the respect and the dignity for the bravery they have shown. So many of our young soldiers are coming back to live new lives as amputees, or to heal the psychological scars of what they saw over there. The least we can do is say "thank you" though it doesn't seem sufficient.