We were supposed to be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but I was so choked up that I could only mouth the words. We had just stood for the presentation of the American Flag by the Color Guard of the American Legion in our town. Tears were streaming down my cheeks, as we heard the haunting melody of Taps. Even though it was only a recording, I allowed myself to forget that it wasn’t a real live serviceman, performing the last rights of every American soldier. . I grieved for my father, who served in the Army twice, for my brother, who served in the SAC division of the Air Force, and even my x-husband, who served in the Navy submarine service during the Vietnam Conflict. I thought about all the men and women in this country who put their lives on the line for our freedom, including my own son, who served in the Coast Guard. Most of all, I opened my heart to all the men in that room who had served our country.
I was visiting my mother in her assisted living home, and on this afternoon, they had a solemn ceremony to honor all the residents who were veterans. Each veteran’s name was called, and each man received a pin. I suspect that every man in that room received a pin, because every resident in that room had either served during World War II or had supported our troops with their love and care. My mother was among them. Her cheeks were wet as well, as we stood in silence as the Color Guard proudly marched to the back of the room.
I’m embarrassed to recall snickering at those old guys in the Memorial Day and 4th of July parades, “playing soldiers.” Shame on me. These are men who proudly carried the flag when they were strong and young. Now, they probably have heart conditions, breathing problems, and countless aches and pains of old age, but they can still march in step, and they still love this nation. Afterward,cake and punch were served, and someone played patriotic songs on the piano. A roomful of old and fragile voices gathered strength,singing God BlessAmerica and It’s a Grand Old Flag. There was no Sinicism here, just pure joy for having survived. All this may sound a little hokey, but I’m just saying, it was downright humbling. Here is a generation that lived what we read about in our history books. They are stronger and wiser than I’ll ever be. They may not be able to remember what they had for breakfast, but they know what it’s like to wake up to war and to live through the depression. They may not be able to balance the checkbook anymore, but they deserve our respect. This little ceremony was well worth the afternoon. It made me look beyond the wheelchairs and walkers. I heard their music. I felt their courage. I saw their determination to get through another day.