A Salute to All Who Served – In Uniform and Without

Good morning. I hope your day is off to a nice start.

For those in the United States, happy Veteran’s Day. Today is a day when we honor those who served our nation, often at great personal risk, for the privilege of defending the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. And it is a privilege. Those of us who have worn this nation’s uniforms were proud to stand behind our nation and salute its flag. Some things may change over time, but this isn’t one of them.

For some of us, that service was a little less dangerous than others. I never saw combat, having graduated from high school three years after the end of the Viet Nam war. And yes, I know it wasn’t an officially declared war, but to the more than 50,000 wives and mothers who stood beside a flag-draped coffin, there is no other more descriptive term.

Every year on Veteran’s Day, I remind people that it’s not only about those who served. For every person wearing the uniform today, there are family members making personal sacrifices few can truly understand. And I think it’s only fitting that we would remember and honor them as well.

Some are living far away from the only home they’ve known, due to “needs of the military.” Some find themselves in a new home every three or four years. There are spouses, forced by circumstance to live and survive as single parents, often for years at a time. There are children who barely remember their deployed parent, if they’ve even met them at all.

They make ends meet with pay that, for many, is barely above poverty level. They see the doctor they’re assigned, rather than one they chose. They live where they’re told to live and move when they’re told to move. And they do this all under the constant threat of an unwelcome visit from the chaplain. It’s a life that most of us can never fully comprehend.

For myself, deployments were hard. Seven months at sea, on a ship with 5500 other men, working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and sleeping in a bunk so tight that you could barely roll over, the one thing that kept me going was knowing I had a wife who was keeping things going on the home front. Her strength was my strength. She served every day I served.

I saw shipmates get the news of a new son or daughter, and I tried to comfort another as he got the news that his infant son had passed away. I saw people open letters from a wife or girlfriend who could no longer handle the separation, and I watched others send a similar letter home. Military life isn’t easy, friends. It takes a special person, on both sides of the equation.

Every time we went to sea, we did so with the knowledge that at least one of us wouldn’t make it home. It was just a reality. Most were due to accidents. An aircraft carrier (or any ship) isn’t the safest place to work. Others were due to illness, overindulgence, and in one case, suicide. We lost 5 in one cruise. Five families left to put together what was left of their shattered lives.

Whether you believe this nation is what it once was, or that our freedoms are as bountiful as they once were, this nation is still worth whatever it takes to ensure its safety. Because, the nation isn’t a flag, fifty states, or a handful of politicians. It’s more than 330 million people, from all walks of life, every one deserving of the best life has to offer.

I grew up in a time when many, weary of the Viet Nam war’s toll, would gladly have eliminated our military. As I arrived home from my first cruise, we were greeted by protesters waving signs and chanting against our very presence. And I remember looking at them silently thinking, I just spent the past several months on the other side of the world defending your right to do this.

My wife didn’t have to leave home for that. She was there, every day, making sure I’d have a home to come back to. My daughter was an infant when I left the first time, and was almost five when I finished my last cruise. I can’t imagine the confusion in her little mind every time Daddy left. But she made the sacrifice as well. Yes, it even counts if you didn’t get a choice.

So, as we thank all of our active-duty and reserve military, retirees, and all who served, let’s take time to hug those family members whose service to our nation often goes unnoticed. To them, it was a labor of love. To those of us who wore the uniform, it was everything.

That’s all for now. Have an awesome day!