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A salute of honor from a non-vet of Veterans Day

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It takes a really close personal experience to offer true depth of understanding of our veterans.

By Steve Doyle

Veterans Day took on a new meaning for me a few years ago.

As a child of the Vietnam Era, I admired and feared for those who took up arms for our country, but being a timid little country boy, I shamefully admit that I wasn’t real keen on participating.

Perhaps admiration and guilt combine to form my odd interest in fiction and films about World War II, maybe they are  why I’ve read The Winds of War/War & Remembrance six times and watched the miniseries of the latter nearly that many times.

Maybe it’s why I love reading the eyewitness accounts from Ron Van Stockum and hearing stories from men and women who have served.

No, I don’t think there’s anything glamorous about war. I don’t think having to kill another human being to defend against selfishness (to keep it simple) is an acceptable or admirable solution to anything.

But it’s sort of like taking out the garbage: It can smell really bad, but you take the job into your hands to keep your home a much better place to be.

When I knew of men who fought – some who died – in Vietnam, I was in awe of their commitment.

I met a man once who endured a long stay in a POW camp. He described how he survived by designing and playing golf courses in his mind. He was a scratch player, and you might say he scratched out an existence in the inhumanity of human conflict.

But all of this – all the glory and gore of it – never really touched my core until this year.

That’s when my older son went off to war.

He’s a Marine, a communications person stationed at Camp Lejeune. He’s a husband, father and father-to-be. He’s not old, but he’s a man.

Early this year he boarded the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault vehicle – think small aircraft carrier with lots of different vehicles aboard – and headed out to the Mediterranean.

It was going to be sort of interesting, he told his old dad. He would stop in Morocco and Italy and Spain and Greece and some other places.

Heck, it sounded like fun. I wanted to go along, sort of a working cruise.

But the deployment didn’t exactly turn out that way.

As he sailed away, in touch via E-mail and occasional phone calls to his wife, there weren’t many stops. There was an original pause in Great Britain, some exercises in Crete and a recess in northern Africa, but otherwise it was a lot of waiting.

And then the call came.

His unit was told to pack up and be ready to go to Afghanistan, to help watch over a region near the mountains until the spring thaw, when insurgents were expected to begin assault on American forces.

Here  is where you get to identify with this anguish. Thousands of you know far better than I and can testify to what came next.

Those were anxious moments for those of us who love him. Though he was not typically on the front line, relegated to command centers and listening posts, we had heard and read of two many tragedies, too many accidents, too many indescribable and insufferable stories of sadness.

We said many prayers and held him close to our hearts, worried, watched for details, listened for vague but scarily familiar geographic references. Tears fell at any small twist.

By God’s grace that chapter ended quickly and safely. He returned home in the spring, back to a real life, featuring his growing son and now a new daughter on the way. He and his wife bought their first house, settled back in.

But he knows what’s coming.

Next spring or summer, he will do it again, pack up and ship out to Afghanistan. He puts his Marine bravado on the line, saying he would rather sleep in the dirt and pee in a pipe than ride around bored aboard a ship. Maybe he thinks those words will squeeze less worry out of all of us. He is kidding himself.

My son is not exactly a veteran. He served in the Coast Guard Reserves before the Marines and has perhaps four years total. He has, at least, dedicated himself to his job.

He’s looking forward to his return from the next deployment, when he will begin an intense training course for a  special ops unit for which he hopes to qualify as part of a plan to re-enlist for several more years.

I don’t know if he will make a career, a life of this work, but I can tell you this – as I told you two years ago – he is my hero.

And in honor of Veterans Day – a day we honor true heroes living and dead – I offer him the best salute I know how to deliver.