To the editor:
I stood at the end of the parade route for the Veterans’ Day parade, holding my baseball cap identifying my old military assignment with the now deactivated 9th Infantry Division, previously stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington. The truck carrying military personnel slowly rolled by, when one of the men in the back wearing a Navy uniform took notice of my hat. Without hesitation, he squared up, faced me, and sharply saluted. I was stunned, honored, and deeply moved by his action. And, I froze.
You see, I enlisted in the military almost 40 years ago. At that time, the Vietnam conflict was winding down, yet those enlisting were still within the Vietnam conflict era. Stories abound about the general view of the public toward military personnel during this period, equating military service with nothing short of being a criminal. It did not matter that, as a soldier, your rifle was never fired in combat. You were guilty by association. Period. For many, many years, veterans, including myself, felt this animosity, and avoided any celebration of military service.
It was not until a little over a year ago, when I was invited to participate in the local Patriot Guard, that I began to realize that many things had changed, and service to the country was now a cause for honor and pride. The tributes offered by the many spectators lining the streets of The Dalles along the parade route were a comfort and a welcome change from the past. People now appreciate the voluntary willingness to sacrifice, and lay down your life, if needed, to defend the principles of one’s country.
And, yet – with thoughts of this recent respect for the military – as the truck rolled by and the man in the Navy uniform saluted, I froze.
The best I could manage was a weak acknowledgement of the honor with a wave of my cap in hand. This was certainly not the return of respect that was deserved for the honor given.
If, by chance you happen to read this, I would like you to know that I was deeply moved and honored by your recognition. Please accept my return salute, if only on paper, and my sincere appreciation for your service to our country. We are all indebted to you, and all past and present military personnel, for your unselfish service. A very sincere thank you.