A Simple Thank You on Veteran’s Day

“We’re going to war, and chances are there will be a draft.”

The Twin Towers were smoldering, but not yet rubble. It was September 11th, 2001, and I was sitting in fourth period U.S. government class, which was taught by Mr. Kuehn, a squat little man who looked like a turtle outside of its shell. For all intents and purposes, he was a brilliant man. But, overcome with shock and vulnerability, Mr. Kuehn let loose a stream of consciousness that left a class of 25 students horrified, imagining themselves on the battlefield.

Again, at this point, we had never heard of al Qaeda, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden or the Axis of Evil. That our generation would be expected to fight a war on foreign soil seemed implausible. Watching replay after replay of the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center, all we knew was something bad had happened. With Pearl Harbor as his only historical comparison, Mr. Kuehn was sure this attack would lead to a strong militaristic response by the United States. Before that day, I had never considered joining the armed forces.

If we’re being honest on this Veteran’s Day, I haven’t considered joining up since.

I never heard “the calling.” Fighting for our country wasn’t built into my fiber. Aside from my grandfathers and a half-uncle, no one else in my family had served. I was far enough removed from the armed forces my whole life, it never came into consideration as I came closer to 18. It was something for other people to do, war or not. Above all, it required a courage you can’t fake ā€” a courage I can readily admit I don’t have.

Mr. Kuehn was, of course, wrong. Despite two wars, there’s been no draft. However, a few students from my U.S. government class did wind up in Afghanistan, and that day, I’m sure, somehow impacted their decision. Over the years, I’ve met so many people who’ve served, and each time I’m taken back. Growing up, I never imagined my peers fighting a war, no less two. That reality belonged to my grandparents and their parents. Friends and old classmates fighting a war ā€” it seems surreal even now.

I have just a hand full of friends who served overseas. From what I can tell, they’ve adjusted to civilian life without any lasting effects, but I can’t fathom what it’s like to carry the memories of war with you. Those memories never really come up, even with my closest veteran friend. Maybe it’s too soon. Maybe it’s something I could never understand, so why bother? Maybe they’ve moved on, tucked the memories away for safe keeping so they can move forward with their lives. I don’t need to know their stories to respect their sacrifice, so I don’t pry.

The very best people I know served in the armed forces, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t overtly patriotic, who’s never worn a yellow ribbon and someone’s who’s argued against the wars for a better part of a decade. I’m grateful because they allowed me to stay here. Without their willingness to serve, maybe Mr. Kuehn would’ve been right. Maybe there would’ve been a draft.

I can’t say it any more eloquently than anyone else will on this Veteran’s Day, so thank you to all of the brave men and women who’ve served for our country, especially those still overseas.

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