I took a friend to the Red Sox game last week. In addition to being a Fenway Park virgin, he’s also a veteran who served in Iraq. Twice. So it was fitting that that particular nationally televised game turned out to be “Military Night” at Fenway. I’d like to say I had it all planned out to impress him, but it was totally coincidental.
The pageantry that night was second to none. Soldiers from all branches of our armed forces were present and accounted for, hundreds of them lining the field. Distinguished veterans were honored and threw out pitches. A soldier with a prosthetic leg running the bases was a particularly poignant moment.
And then came the piece de resistance:
Fenway’s fabled Green Monster—which stands 37-1/2 feet tall in left field—was draped in an enormous American flag while the Star Spangled Banner was performed. And as you can see, our seats provided prime viewing.
It was a powerful moment. But it’s what happened afterwards that moved me most.
My friend—my tough as nails, macho, 6’5″ mountain of a friend—had tears in his eyes. And I realized in that moment how much I take for granted. I donated some money once to a non-profit organization that helps veterans and I take my hat off when the national anthem is played. Aside from that, I haven’t served my country in any tangible way.
But my friend (and countless others just like him) have done so. And then some. They’ve left their families for months and even years at a time, often missing huge milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries and even the births of their kids. They’ve dodged bullets in the desert, and sometimes those bullets didn’t miss. They’ve watched their friends die and they’ve had to defend themselves. Often by lethal means.
Some don’t come back, but even the ones who do don’t always come back whole. The missing parts aren’t as obvious as an absence of limbs either. It’s insidious PTSD, nightmares and memories that never seem to fade. It’s not being able to enter a city block without worrying about snipers, or being uncomfortable every time you’re around a large group of people. It’s being petrified about assimilating back into a society after witnessing the unspeakable.
Is it any wonder the song that encompasses all those things brings tears to the eyes of the people who have taken it upon themselves to experience the unimaginable horror of war so we don’t have to be burdened with it?
I’ve been around veterans when people from the general public come up to them and ask/say stupid things. “How many people did you kill?” “Were you shot at?” “Did anyone in your unit die?” I’m not sure what it is about that uniform that seems to give people the right to think it’s OK to ask ridiculously insensitive questions, but it does happen. And I want to punch them in the face.
I don’t know the best way to honor veterans. But personally, if I see a veteran I offer a handshake and a simple “thank you for your service.” And for my friends who served, I’m just there. There if they want to talk about what happened, and there when they want to talk about everything else instead.
When it comes to Will, all I can do is instill in him an appreciation for the monumental sacrifice our veterans make for us. And lucky for us both, I happen to have a handful of friends I can show him who illustrate that point perfectly.
Happy Memorial Day. And thank you—all of you who put your lives on the line for this country—for your service.