I am, as many of my gentle readers know, a veteran of the Navy. I spent nine years, seven months, and one day working for Uncle Sam’s Cruise Line (not that I was counting). Today, I’ll be particularly remembering my grandfather. He was a plank owner on the USS New Jersey, meaning that he was part of the original crew when the ship was commissioned, and he served on her as a look out during World War 2. During that time he saw the Missouri hit by a kamikaze pilot and presumably had a few adventuresome moments himself. I’ll never know, because he didn’t like to talk about it.
I have his cruise book, a publication a little like a school yearbook that the ship put out after its war-time deployment. So I know that he saw Japanese prisoners of war brought on board, that he saw combat, and that he helped clean the deck of the ship with a holy stone. Papa died about six months before I shipped to boot camp, but he knew before he died that I was going. I like to think he would have been proud of my service.
I saw the modern version of combat myself. I was part of the Tomahawk strike team that helped launch cruise missiles at Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. I try to talk about it, since I know that as a woman in the Navy, in a combat role, I was slightly historical. There were two other women launching missiles during that awful time, one on my strike team and one on another ship in the eastern Mediterranean. I don’t talk about it much. I kind of understand why Papa didn’t talk about his war time, either.
Today I’ll also say a prayer for all the other veterans, the ones who made it home whole; the ones who came home wounded in body, mind, or spirit; the ones who didn’t make it home at all. We didn’t do it for the gratitude. We did it because it was the job to be done, and it was in front of us.
It’s OK, if you see a veteran today, to say “thank you.” A lot of us get kind of embarrassed by your gratitude, but that’s all right. Saying “You’re welcome” is our one last duty to you, some small try at making you feel that it’s all right. But if you really want to do something this Veteran’s Day, I recommend donating to one of the excellent organizations out there promoting peace in the world. The best thing any of us can do is make sure there are no more war veterans for us to thank.