Nov. 12, 2009
By Steve Mount
I was having a relaxed lunch with my grandmother the other day when the subject of Veterans Day came up. The day, set aside to honor all military veterans, is a state and national holiday on Nov. 11, but not a day off for most businesses or schools. GE, where I work, does give all of its American employees Veterans Day off, which prompted the turn of conversation.
She spoke of my grandfather’s time away during World War II, but more specifically of what she was doing during those times. While he was off serving in Italy, she was trying to make ends meet back in Massachusetts, with a newborn daughter to take care of.
She told of finding a place to live and work, taking care of the children of a school headmaster; of the friendships my mother, as a toddler, made with his children; of the family dinners they were welcomed at and the dinners where she was expected to help serve the guests.
She told of my grandfather’s homecoming, and how he was expected home in the afternoon, but surprised them by arriving in the morning instead. She told of his meeting his daughter for the first time.
As I listened to these stories of “home,” a specific feeling began to tug at me — I’ll get to that feeling in a moment.
Technically, I am one of the veterans whom we honored Wednesday. I served in the National Guard for five years in the early ’90s. I feel embarrassed to be included in the category, though. I never saw any combat, never even left the country. My comrades and I watched the invasion of Iraq in Desert Storm from the comfort of our living rooms in Vermont, from the comfort of our armory in Swanton.
I feel like I sacrificed nothing more than a few summers in Kentucky, one weekend a month in exotic locales like Jericho, or a few weeks away at far-off Fort Drum. Compared to those veterans who spent years away from home, with those who endured gunfire and artillery, my service was a walk in the park.
My children ask me, from time to time, about what I did in the Army. I have fond memories of my Southern drill sergeants, of the young men from Vermont and New Hampshire that I trained with, of driving tanks through the backwoods of Camp Johnson, of firing shells at plywood cutouts in the hills of the Ethan Allen Firing Range, of waving to the cheering crowds from a perch atop my tank as we drove down the street during a Fourth of July parade.
I tell them that I served in the Guard because I felt it was the least I could do. That I hoped because of what I did and what countless others before me and since had done, that they might never have to put on a uniform. But if they did, that they would join a proud American tradition of military service.
Which brings me back to that feeling — the feeling that while we honor our veterans, we should also honor those they left behind. The spouses who raised the children while the soldier was away. The parents who wished for some news, but not the wrong kind of news. The civilians who endured the shortages and rationing. These people are also veterans of a different sort, and as we honor those who served, I feel that we should also honor those who supported those who served.
In June of this year, according to the Department of Defense, U.S. military personnel were serving in 150 countries across the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from the single soldier in Guyana to 171,000 personnel in Iraq. Significant numbers are also serving in Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Djibouti, Belgium, Turkey and Bahrain.
These men and women currently serving join an estimated 43 million other veterans who have served the United States since the Revolutionary War. Hopefully you were able to take a few moments on Wednesday to remember all of these people, and to remember those who supported them back at home.
For it is because of “home” that they serve at all.
Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.