This week the local Rotary Club held a program honoring and celebrating military services contributed by attendees.
On any other Wednesday, the person sitting next to you might be Bob or maybe Charles. In Rotary, the tradition is to only refer to attendees by their first names, wash references of occupation aside, and focus on coming together on behalf of the community. But on this day, a special brethren of the club stepped out of the shadows into the light of the moment.
Veterans come in all shapes and sizes. They also come from different branches, hometowns, and live in different neighborhoods. But the one commonality, regardless of their age, is a brother and sisterhood of having served our nation.
During the program a member stood behind the podium calling out the names attendees, asking them to rise and be recognized. As they rose, the speaker shared a brief bio of the individual’s branch, rank, theaters of service, and years of service. And with each, those in attendance offered their respect through applause.
I found a powerful humility in each as they stood. Until then I might have known each as a member having shared a table with dozens of times, casually speaking about everything from road construction to baseball scores from the night before.
But on this day, I met someone much different.
These moments are odd, almost like glancing at a well-worn book cover, recognizing the title, and telling yourself you know the story contained inside. But in reality, you don’t.
Veterans, for the most part, consider their service a contribution – a personal continuation in the line of millions who came before them – and then modestly go on in life. Some are doctors, other lawyers. Another owns a small local business, another the editor of a local newspaper. And while each leads an individual life, the one thing you won’t hear cheaply dropped in conversation like a celebrity’s name, are references to their service. To do so would be considered disrespectful to those who came before them as well as to the spirit of those who tragically did not return.
Let me tell you what I saw in that room this week.
A man who came ashore Iwo Jima in 1945 with 3,600 men, he one of only 800 to survive. Imagine what his gentle eyes witnessed.
Or another as the speaker told of how the man flew nearly 150 missions over Vietnam in the fabled F-4 Phantom II – a tremendous number over incredibly hostile skies.
Or another comparatively younger man who stood up as the speaker told of life-threatening injuries received during his service in the Middle East.
Or a woman who served as JAG officer in the Navy, working with captured prisoners during the Iraqi War, working to ensure justice proceeded fairly.
I lost count of how many stood up, each story marking time like news clips in time.
On this Memorial Day, we owe them and those who did not return our deepest respect for their service and sacrifices.