Every year around this time, I try to write something that acknowledges our veterans and the sacrifices they have made in service to our country. And honestly, after a few years, I’ve begun to feel like I’m just saying the same things over and over. So I sat, laptop in lap, pondering this post, and as I pondered, it occurred to me why I was having such a difficult time finding the right words.
I don’t have a clue. And it’s hard to write about something you can’t really comprehend.
I don’t have a clue how hard it was for soldiers to leave their families, knowing it could be months . . . or years . . . before they would see them again. If they ever did. I don’t have a clue how hard it was to embrace the unknown, the only certainty being the uncertainty of it all. They had no idea where they would be stationed or what they would be doing. They had no idea if they would see combat and, if so, would they live to tell their children and their grandchildren? And given the horrors of war, would they even want to?
I don’t have a clue how hard it was for their families to watch them leave. Even in times of peace, there are no guarantees of a safe return. Even in times of peace, there are no guarantees that war is not lurking in the not so distant future. How hard it must have been . . . and must still be . . . to see your sons and daughters and spouses and siblings prepare to offer the ultimate sacrifice, knowing there is nothing you can do to protect them. That all you can do is wait.
When I look at the pictures that document the bravery and the courage of our veterans, and I try to imagine what those moments must have been like, I can’t. I just can’t. Granted, for some like my dad, military service proved safe and, as my mother always told us, some of the happiest years of their lives. But he was one of the lucky ones. Drafted during the Korean War, he was assigned stateside because he could type. And they needed a typist. There were so many others who were not equally blessed.
I try to imagine preparing to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day . . . and I realize how overwhelming the fear must have been. I try to imagine being in the jungles of Vietnam, at the mercy of an enemy you could not even see . . . and I realize how utterly helpless they must have felt. Time and again, our soldiers have offered themselves in sacrifice for something far greater, and time and again they have paid the price for their dedication. Those who survived the World Wars, the Korean War and many of the other conflicts in which we’ve fought, were welcomed home with honor and pride—unless that conflict was the Vietnam War. For some reason their service was deemed less than honorable and many in our country let them know that in no uncertain terms. I can’t imagine how devastating that must have been.
During World War II many of the nation’s youth volunteered for service, but the vast majority were compelled to serve, drafted into the military and literally sent around the world. According to research published by the World War II Museum in New Orleans, 38.8% of all U.S. servicemen and women volunteered for duty from 1942 through the end of the war in 1945. But 61.2%—or 11,535,000 young men—were drafted. Probably very few of those looked forward to the challenges and dangers their service would hold, but they still answered the call. And sadly, many of them never had the opportunity to wear the name “Veteran” because their service demanded the ultimate price.
Fortunately not every veteran has seen the violence of war, but those men and women still deserve our gratitude. Every man or woman who has served, whether as a draftee or a volunteer, has accepted that duty knowing the full consequences of their actions. And yet they still served. They still believed in country above self.
So today I’m going to say thank you. And I’ll do the same tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. As long as mankind exists, there will be a need for the sacrificial service of those in uniform—and as long as they willingly serve, there should be gratitude from the rest of us.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.