Iíve been hobbling along for the past week on crutches. Thanks to the clumsy act of tripping over my own feet on carpet, I tore some tendons in my left foot. My fellow cohorts said I should come up with a better story, something to do with a feeble attempt to roundhouse kick Chuck Norris. No one would believe that even if that was the truth and now my husband, neighbor and fellow staff members have given me the nickname ďhop-along.Ē
Thatís OK though, because Iíve still managed to do my job and learn a few lessons along the way, like how easy it is to underestimate the importance of appreciation.
This past Saturday at the Waxahachie Civic Center, I covered the 14th annual Veterans Appreciation Day ceremony. Hundreds of veterans were honored with grand Swing music, photo slideshows of war scenes and soldiers reuniting with loved ones, stories from the battlefield and prayers. Yet, the part that made me teary-eyed was when the master of ceremonies asked everyone else to remain seated so veterans could stand for recognition. They stood as tall as they could, with a sense of dignity that seemed like something I would never be able to capture accurately in time for Sundayís paper. Even a 104-year-old World War II veteran rose from his wheelchair for applause. I was speechless.
How was I supposed to come back and tell a story about that kind of pride, bravery and honor when I couldnít even begin to understand what these veterans had seen?
Then, the master of ceremonies said something that struck me to my core. People often define America as one of the greatest countries, if not the greatest, for various reasons ó be it the definition of freedoms we have that other countries donít, or the sense of democracy, privilege and opportunity we have that other countries donít. We, as a country, pride ourselves on that. Yet, excessive patriotism doesnít make up for lack of quality in the actions we as a country, and as individuals, make.
Defining what makes America great would not be possible without this fact ó the life we have today exists because of a group of fighters willing to stand up for those freedoms. They have given and continue to give us the ability to live whatever ďAmerican DreamĒ weíre chasing after. That ability dates back to the need for independence from Great Britain in the 18th century, and the fighters who fought for independence after them have helped bring us to where we are today. Those soldiers have constantly put their lives on the line to protect our country, family and future, no matter who was Commander in Chief. And U.S. soldiers today are still doing their jobs to protect that independence with that same sense of pride, bravery and honor. More than 6,800 people have lost their lives in some of todayís biggest conflicts (Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn) as confirmed by U.S. Central Command.
Ellis Countyís best and brightest have also answered the call time and again, with more than 300 fellow citizens making the ultimate sacrifice for their country since World War II.
As I hobbled out of the ceremony and back to my car, I passed a veteran leaning against a brick wall. He was supporting himself with a walker as he waited for his ride. I passed by with my big foot brace, and he smiled, saying, ďIíve been there. Donít rush it, it gets better.Ē I could only smile back and say thanks ó I thought it was strange that someone who had seen Vietnam was comparing his injury to mine. What I wish I had done instead is ask him if he was willing to share more of his story.
So, how do I, a rookie journalist only out of college just under a year, tell that story of courage, when those veterans in Saturdayís ceremony seem to be saying it all for me simply by standing up?
That may take me years to figure out.
Iím not a veteran, though I do come from a family full of them ó from my grandfather to my uncle, to my father-in-law, to his brother, to his uncle, to name a few. But, I am a storyteller and wouldnít have my right to Freedom of Speech, as well as many other freedoms, without those who fought for it.
So the most I can do is continue to share their stories and say this: If you know a veteran, donít just celebrate him or her on Veterans Day or on Memorial Day if they are no longer with us ó one or two days of patriotism arenít enough to celebrate their sacrifices.
Shake a veteranís hand.
Hug a veteran like he or she is family.
Then, if theyíre willing, ask if they will share their story with you and listen.
Donít let that appreciation stop when those national holidays end, because they didnít stop fighting for you after a day or two.