My dad enlisted in the navy during WWII before he was old enough to be drafted and placed where he didn’t want to be.
I’ve seen pictures of him in those days – so young. A skinny, smiling, dark-haired boy, either shirtless, cigarette dangling, relaxing with shipmates, or so handsome in his dress whites that my eyes prickle with tears right now, just thinking about it.
He was a boy.
Nearly all of them were.
Ten years older than Alex is now. Not even that.
I called my dad this morning, partly because it’s Veterans Day and partly just because.
But before I called, I was thinking. Thinking about how we say things. And how holidays have become, almost across the board, Hallmark Card days, with bright, jolly images and all of them prefaced by one word: Happy.
I can’t say it. Happy Veterans Day.
I think that’s too…too bright and sparkly a word.
I was talking to my sister about this, because I can bounce irreverent things off her and know that she’ll understand.
Here’s a snippet of our conversation:
me: saying Happy veterans day just doesn't sound right to me
like...happy veteran's day! sorry you lost your leg!
here's some candy!
I know that sounds awful (and no, my dad didn’t lose his leg, that was just me being sarcastic) – but that’s what the word “happy” does for me in that context. I’m just waiting for camouflage m&ms to appear some day.
So I can’t – with any sincerity – use it.
So then…what to say?
Dad doesn’t talk about the war much. Not the horrible parts, anyway. He’s a very tenderhearted man, my dad, and the memories – all these many years later – are still painful.
Instead, he said this morning that he had a great time. And I’m sure that young boy did. He got to travel the world, something he wouldn’t have done had the war not given him the opportunity. He got to travel around on a ship with a bunch of other guys his age from all over the country.
It was an adventure…except, you know, for the times the ship almost went down. Or the time a sister ship completely disappeared one night, taking her entire crew with her. Forever.
He doesn’t dwell on the loss. He keeps that tucked away in a corner of his heart, I think. It hurts too much to take it out very often.
So…”Happy” Veterans Day?
I can’t say it.
I think “Thank You” works better.
And I think Armistice Day was a better name for this day. A day to stop, and be silent, and remember. Yes, it was a WWI reference, but still…I like it better. I think it’s more appropriate. More meaningful.
Especially now, when every date on the calendar has a laundry list of things to celebrate or acknowledge. Sure, it’s fun that September whatever is “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” I can say arrrrgh with the best of them. But still. If every day is special, than none of them are. You know?
I like the idea of stopping. Eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Stop everything and just…shhhhhh. Remember those who served and died. Remember those who survived the wars but aren’t around any longer.
And then go and say Thank You to those who remain, and to those who serve today.
Today I think of Bill’s late father and uncle, both of whom served in WWII.
And I say a heartfelt Thank You to my father, and to Bill’s uncle Werner, who also served in WWII. And Bill’s brother, Bob, who served in Desert Storm.
And to our nephew, Joe, who is serving overseas as I type this. I’ll give him a hug in a couple weeks, when he is safely home once more.