As you may know, ours is a military family. Dan's never been military, but I'm the proud daughter of a career Navy man, Dan's Dad was Air Force, my Mom's family was Coast Guard, and our son is a United States Marine. And we are so proud of our Marine -- but there are a lot of people out there these days who take issue with the US military's role in the world today. There are a lot of people, in fact, who have a problem with anything directed from within the 68.3 square miles that contain our nation's capital (A mentality particularly easy to understand these days...). There are liberals who just hate the military. There are good Christian people who do not believe our foreign wars are moral wars. And all these people with their varied opinons have subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways of letting you know their reservations, God bless 'em.
But, I have to say it, folks... And I hope you don't mind if I just spew here for a minute. It literally makes me queasy when I see the pained expressions rise on the faces of well-meaning friends and acquaintances when the subject of our Marine Corps son comes up. Yes, I know they don't mean to be hurtful with their concern and I know they do try to keep their disapproval to themselves (usually), and I know it's only because they care about and love Paul and his Marine wife, Nicole, like we do that they worry for him. But, jeezlouise, get a grip, people. Do I really need to explain and hand-hold and justify about this all the time? Seriously. I need to preserve my mother-energy for other things.
Do this, if you can, when the subject comes up: Tell me you wish my Marine the best, tell me you'll pray for him, but save the melodrama.
Could Paul be deployed and hurt or killed in his chosen profession? Don't I know it? Of course he could. It's a difficult fact, but one that all military families have to come to terms with. But, let's be real, he could also be killed driving to Walmart. Look at the relativity here: 464 Coloradans were killed in traffic accidents in 2009 (and that was a good year) while fewer than 150 Americans died in Iraq. And I don't know, maybe I'm a little crazy or just old-school, but I really do believe it's honorable to die fighting for something you believe in. Even, or maybe especially, when your neighbor doesn't believe in your cause. Regardless, it just seems there's more sense in it than being killed because some dummy runs a red light.
Do I fear for my son, though, being so far away, outside my physical realm of influence -- outside an afternoon's drive for a long weekend hanging out together? Of course I do! I'd be an unnatural mother if I didn't fear for him in a strange and scary place, if I didn't worry for his safety and comfort, if I didn't want him tucked safely under my wing. It scares me to death if I think too hard about it. But, what mother doesn't have those fears anyway when their children move away from home? It's a scary world out there. Period. No matter where our children are.
But, in the potential of a war zone, yes, I worry more than most for my boy's physical safety. Those worries, and fears, though, are buried under the pride I have in my son. Paul graduated at the top of his class, a man of extraordinary talent and leadership skills; he could have chosen to parlay his talent and skills in a lucrative business career after graduation from college -- and I expect the day is still coming when he'll blaze a trail in the business world. But, he chose the path of service to follow first. Whether you love the United States or not, whether you love the miliary or not, you have to understand a mother's pride in her son's integrity in a nonselfish choice. And it's just those kinds of choices my Marine has made that comfort me on a deeper level than my worry for his physical safety.
You see, though he rocks on many levels, I'm most proud because my son is a good man. I have every reason to believe he preserves his soul in a state of grace at all times. He proudly wears the brown scapular. He prays the rosary. He never misses Mass. He is the MC of choice at high Masses for certain priest friends of ours. He is a good and loving son, the perfect, affectionate big brother, and a stellar husband to his new wife. What more could parents want of a child? Should it be God's choice to take this amazing man early in his life -- here crossing the street or fighting in Iraq -- we would miss him forever, our hearts would long for him, our lives would never be the same -- but I would be at peace for him. I wouldn't worry.
We would be sad, but it wouldn't be a tragedy. A tragedy would be a son who wasted his life, who didn't strive for the best in all things. So, seriously, please pass the word. Never feel sorry for the parents of military kids. We're proud of our strong, high-minded children. Don't pity the men and women of our military or cluck your tongues in worry. They know exactly what they're getting into and they know exactly who and what they're fighting for, even when the recipients of their gift are clueless. And save your disapproval for the people you read about in newspaper blotters. The men and women of our armed forces are our best and brightest -- if for no other reason than because they dare to risk. In a world of indecision, irresponsibility, and weakness, this strength of character is rare. Beautiful. And needed.
OK.... Stepping down off my plastic laundry detergent bucket now....
On with our reglarly scheduled programming:
The Sack Lunches
I put my carry-on in the luggage compartment and sat down in my assigned seat. It was going to be a long flight. 'I'm glad I have a good book to read. Perhaps I will get a short nap,' I thought.
Just before take-off, a line of soldiers came down the aisle and filled all the vacant seats, totally surrounding me. I decided to start a conversation.
'Where are you headed?' I asked the soldier seated nearest to me.
'Petawawa. We'll be there for two weeks for special training, and then we're being deployed to Afghanistan
After flying for about an hour, an announcement was made that sack lunches were available for five dollars. It would be several hours before we reached the east, and I quickly decided a lunch would help pass the time...
As I reached for my wallet, I overheard a soldier ask his buddy if he planned to buy lunch. 'No, that seems like a lot of money for just a sack lunch. Probably wouldn't be worth five bucks. I'll wait till we get to base.'
His friend agreed.
I looked around at the other soldiers. None were buying lunch. I walked to the back of the plane and handed the flight attendant a fifty dollar bill.. 'Take a lunch to all those soldiers.' She grabbed my arms and squeezed tightly. Her eyes wet with tears, she thanked me. 'My son was a soldier in Iraq ; it's almost like you are doing it for him.'
Picking up ten sacks, she headed up the aisle to where the soldiers were seated. She stopped at my seat and asked, 'Which do you like best - beef or chicken?'
'Chicken,' I replied, wondering why she asked. She turned and went to the front of plane, returning a minute later with a dinner plate from first class.
'This is your thanks..'
After we finished eating, I went again to the back of the plane,
heading for the rest room. A man stopped me. 'I saw what you did. I want to be part of it. Here, take this.' He handed me twenty-five dollars.
Soon after I returned to my seat, I saw the Flight Captain coming down the aisle, looking at the aisle numbers as he walked, I hoped he was not looking for me, but noticed he was looking at the numbers only on my side of the plane. When he got to my row he stopped, smiled, held out his hand and said, 'I want to shake your hand.' Quickly unfastening my seatbelt I stood and took the Captain's hand. With a booming voice he said, 'I was a soldier and I was a military pilot. Once, someone bought me a lunch. It was an act of kindness I never forgot.' I was embarrassed when applause was heard from all of the passengers.
Later I walked to the front of the plane so I could stretch my legs. A man who was seated about six rows in front of me reached out his hand, wanting to shake mine. He left another twenty-five dollars in my palm.
When we landed I gathered my belongings and started to deplane. Waiting just inside the airplane door was a man who stopped me, put something in my shirt pocket, turned, and walked away without saying a word. Another twenty-five dollars!
Upon entering the terminal, I saw the soldiers gathering for their trip to the base. I walked over to them and handed them seventy-five dollars. 'It will take you some time to reach the base.. It will be about time for a
sandwich... God Bless You.'
Ten young men left that flight feeling the love and respect of their fellow travelers.
As I walked briskly to my car, I whispered a prayer for their safe return. These soldiers were giving their all for our country. I could only give them a couple of meals. It seemed so little...
A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to 'The United States of America ' for an amount of 'up to and including my life.'