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      November 11th is Veterans Day

Some veterans bear visible signs of their service:
a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye.

Others may carry the evidence inside them:
a pin holding a bone together,
a piece of shrapnel in the leg -
or perhaps another sort of inner steel:
the soul's ally forged in the refinery of adversity.

Except in parades, however,
the men and women who have kept America safe
wear no badge or emblem.

You can't tell a vet just by looking.

What is a vet?

He is the cop on the beat who spent
six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two
gallons a day making sure the armored
personnel carriers didn't run out of fuel.

He is the barroom loudmouth,
dumber than five wooden planks,
whose overgrown frat-boy behavior
is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales
by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.

She - or he - is the nurse
who fought against futility
and went to sleep sobbing
every night for two solid years in
Da Nang.

He is the POW
who went away one person
and came back
another -
or
didn't come back at all

He is the Quantico drill instructor
who has never seen combat -
but has saved countless lives by
turning slouchy,
no-account rednecks
and gang members
into Marines,
and teaching them
to watch each other's backs.

He is the parade - riding Legionnaire
who pins on his ribbons and medals
with a prosthetic hand.

He is the career quartermaster
who watches the ribbons
and medals pass him by.

He is the three anonymous heroes
in The Tomb Of The Unknowns,
whose presence
at the Arlington National Cemetery
must forever preserve the memory
of all the anonymous heroes
whose valor dies unrecognized
with them on the battlefield
or in the ocean's sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries
at the supermarket -
palsied now and aggravatingly slow -
who helped liberate a Nazi death camp
and who wishes all day long that his wife
were still alive to hold him
when the nightmares come.

He is an ordinary and yet
an extraordinary human being -
a person who offered some of his life's
most vital years in the service
of his country,
and who sacrificed his ambitions
so others would not have to
sacrifice theirs.

He is a soldier and a savior
and a sword against the darkness,
and he is nothing more than the finest,
 greatest testimony on behalf
of the finest, greatest
nation ever known.

So remember,
each time you see someone
who has served our country,
just lean over and say
Thank You.
That's all most people need,
and in most cases it
will mean more than any medals
they could have been awarded
or were awarded.

Two little words that mean a lot,
"Thank You."
 


"It is the soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier,
Who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protestor to burn the flag."

Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC

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