A few years ago while working on the campus of the Veteran’s Hospital at American Lake near Tacoma, WA one of the regular staff there, despite my urgings to call me by my first name, refused. It was always “Mr. Gleason.”
When I brought it up at a staff meeting one afternoon, she explained she did it out of a deep-rooted respect for me and my service as a veteran. Her sincere remarks touched me in such a way that it brought tears to my eyes and another in the room later said they could tell I was deeply moved by what had been said. I understood her point of view, but I couldn’t help to think, what’s so special about what I did?
You see, I’ve never looked at my service in the Air Force as a sacrifice, nor was it, by any means, a selfless act. It was among the best years of my life and a tremendous opportunity.
It was a privilege to wear the uniform. I came away from those days and experiences so much more the benefactor. It was not a sacrifice to have served. To the contrary, the sacrifice would have been in not serving.
I was well-paid for those few years with a college education, job and mortgage assistance and even health care. More importantly, I was blessed beyond measure to have been born in this country. It’s the least I could do for it.
If I am a prideful person it’s for two reasons: I’m proud to have served in the military and I am a proud American.
I’m grateful in knowing that I served my country in a righteous cause. As a result I have a profound sense of patriotism and a love for country that touches me to the core. I rarely hear our National Anthem without choking with emotion. My thoughts turn to our flag and all that it represents, and especially to those who gave their lives to preserve freedom around the world providing us, and those less fortunate, with the freedom to choose.
So on this Veterans Day, while I salute all those who took the pledge and wore the uniform I remember those, from a personal perspective, who never returned to their homes and family.
The 6-member crew of a B-52 who frequented our fire station for the “good food,” the F-105 pilot whose ejection seat malfuntioned killing him and another Air Force firefighter on my crew. And then there was a high school classmate killed in the Quang Nam Province of South Vietnam at the age of 18. There were a few others I knew and served with who paid the ultimate price but whose names I don’t now recall. Of course there are tens of thousands more from that era and from various wars and conflicts before and after. It is them I think of today. Any other “sacrifice” pales in comparison.