I had these simple cards made over 14 years ago. After scribbling so many hastily written, illegible notes to place on the windshields of cars I realized I needed something that was a bit more expeditious. When I see men or women wearing caps emblazoned with their branch of service, or license plates that identify a veteran, jackets, T-shirts, etc, I tend to make a fool of myself running after the individual to thank them and shake their hand. My daughter has had the honor of shaking many a veteran's hand.
One gentleman had no right hand so she just hugged him instead.
Mostly, the elder veterans from WWII share their stories with us; Tales of boys leaving home and becoming men under the most dire of circumstances. These are lessons Gracie will carry with her for her entire life. War, perhaps sometimes necessary, is never pretty. Nor is war to be entered into lightly.
I met my first veteran when I was 13. He was a 91 year old man when he told me the story of how he left home at 18 to serve in the Great War. I never forgot him. He quoted the poem Flander's Fields to me, by heart.
I never forgot the words of the poem or the story that James told me.
Sadly, most of the men I have spoken to have never been thanked. They actually thank me for thanking them!
About 6 months ago, I spied a veterans' license plate in the parking lot of the local WalMart. As usual, I hurriedy grabbed a card and headed toward the parked car. There was a young man and a woman inside, to my surprise. It looked as if they had been arguing. Too late, however, I had already rapped on the window. They looked at me. I felt so small. He rolled down his window and glared at me. "Yes?"
"I, um, saw your, um, license plate and I just wanted to thank you for your service to our country". I stammered. I thrust the card toward him. "May I shake your hand?"
He stared at me.
His wife stared at me. Her eyes were red.
His wife spoke, "Can I tell her?"
He nodded his head and began to heave and sob.
He had recently returned home after two tours from, where, I never learned.
He had just left the hospital, where he stayed for several days after attempting to end his own life.
"It matters," was all he could say through his sobs, and "thank you".
There are so many more stories. So many more.
Friends, I have given out almost 2,500 hundred cards in the last 14 years and the common refrain is "no one ever thanked me". Then they thank me. How backwards is that? Really. We thank the cashier at the grocery store for returning our change, we thank the UPS guy but we NEVER thank those men and women who gave their youth, their sanity, huge portions of their souls and their very LIVES!?
We have a joke in our house, "How do you make a Marine cry?"
"You thank him".
Thank you, Veterans, from the bottom of my soul. Thank you for the very real sacrifices you made, I will never forget. WE will never forget. I promise.