Growing up, we always lived in different states from the rest of the family. Every summer we drove back to Michigan to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. My paternal grandfather had a small room of his own with a green bedspread always made up neatly, a small desk, and a set of shelves. On one low shelf, an old black and white photo was always dust-free and always drew my attention. I could stare at that photo for long stretches of time and the rest of the world would melt away as adults caught up on the goings-on of family.
The photo: my grandfather and grandmother young and in love. She always looked her best, up until the Alzheimer’s took her mind. He looked as I never saw him in real life. In that photo he wore his dress uniform, a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. He rarely talked of war or his time in the military, and that photo is long gone, but I still have the patch signifying his rank in a lockbox of mementos from my childhood. When I take it out and look at it, I see that photo and I see that proud grandfather that man became wrapped up in one fond memory.
During the Gulf War, my English teacher brought in a newspaper article about military personnel looking for pen pals. Our assignment: to pick one of the names in the article and write to him or her. I wrote my letter, got my grade, but somehow my letter didn’t make it into the mail with the rest of the class. I felt bad, so I bought a funny Shoebox greeting card and sent that instead.
Mike wrote back. He told me that everyone sent sweet, positive cards, but he liked mine because it made him laugh when he was missing home the most. We continued to write back and forth from there. I invited my friend, Ann, to write to him too. I don’t remember much about what we talked about in those letters. I imagine that a couple of high school girls didn’t have that much of interest to say to a Marine serving in the desert, but he always wrote back and when he returned to the States I knew we had made a difference to him. He showed up at our school to meet me and Ann. Imagine the look on two teenage girls’ faces when a Marine in full dress uniform stepped out of the principal’s office to greet us.
My grandfather passed on long ago and I lost track of Mike when we both hit hectic spots in our lives. While we haven’t spoken in years, I still think of them both whenever I see a news story about soldiers, from losing another one in service to the idiots picketing funeral services.
Whether we are for or against any war, we must remember that those serving in any branch of the Armed Forces are there not because they support that cause but because they have sworn their lives to protect us and this country.
If you see a soldier today, tomorrow, next week, or next year, take a moment to say, “Thank you.”