Happy Memorial Day
It's astonishing how many things we all take for granted, especially that which we value most... our freedom.
My dad always tells me that being independent and free is the absolute epitome of happiness and well-being. He should know having lived in Nazi occupied Greece during World War II.
Both my wonderful parents constantly sing praise about how appreciative they are to be living in Australia... a country that celebrates the same freedoms as the US. They still commemorate Anzac Day - Memorial Day for Australia.
A few years ago, I was waiting for my connecting flight at Dallas airport during a pretty lengthy layover. I decided to go on a jaunt to find the healthiest possible lunch that I could. I've always wondered why a healthy restaurant chain doesn't set up at airports. They would make a killing from people like me.
While I was sitting at my table, a very old man was sitting at the table beside me. He was dressed in a brown suit and wearing what looked like a 1950s hat. He must've been well into his early 90s.
He had a walking stick, a glass eye and looked very frail yet dignified. He picked up his cup of coffee bringing it slowly to his lips, took a sip, and then with his hand and the cup shaking, struggled to put it back onto the small plate. His wife was sitting beside him and placed her weathered hand in his.
I've always been captivated by married couples who have stayed together that long and still show signs of affection and love beyond beauty, beyond status - beyond anything; a testament to their unconditional love for each other.
She got up and headed to the ladies room. After a while, the old man stood up and took hold of his walking stick, gripping it tightly in an effort to help himself stand upright. He looked like he was about to fall.
I couldn't believe how fragile he looked. At that point, I didn't know whether or not I should offer him my assistance. I didn't want to embarrass him but I didn't want him to come crashing down either. I decided to help him up. He placed his hand on my shoulder and hung on.
He thanked me and said, “I have a glass eye, bad leg, not so good hip…a lot of injuries from World War II... June 6, 1944, Normandy.”
“I'm so sorry to hear that but look at you... still going strong." I replied.
He smiled as he regained his balance and said,
“Did you see Saving Private Ryan?” I told him that I had.
“It was just like that... maybe worse. I was one of the fellas on that beach.”
Something of a haunting nature went through me when he said that. I had recently seen the film and found it overwhelmingly powerful and realistically disturbing. Never had I wanted a scene in a movie to hurry up and end so much. If you saw the movie you'll know what I'm talking about. Now here I was face to face with someone who lived the horrifying experience.
He tipped his hat off to me as he walked away. “Thanks again. Have a good day.”
“Thank you, you too.”
I watched this tall, thin and hunched figure walk away slowly to catch up with his wife. I got very emotional. You know that sensation when you're in public and you try to hold back tears? The one that’s so powerful that even though you're suppressing your tears they “fall” out? That's what was happening to me.
At that moment, fixing my gaze upon this veteran, I became aware of where I was and who I am... a Greek/Australian in Dallas, Texas, USA.
I was on my way to a gig to entertain people… something that I've always loved, wanted to do and continue doing.
I can travel between the US and Australia. I can travel to the UK, Canada to Asia... wherever I want. (So can you)
I can come to America and pursue a dream. (So can you) It occurred to me how incredible it felt knowing I am free.
I am free because of what the old man and his brothers in arms sacrificed in their youth before I was even born.
I wanted to thank him. I composed myself and began walking back to see him.
I didn't care how corny this was going to sound or what he or anybody else thought of me for saying what I was about to. I felt it was something I wanted him to hear and something I needed to say.
I caught up to him again.
“Excuse me; I hope you don't mind me saying this. I could never comprehend or understand what you and your buddies went through. I'm several generations later and I appreciate everything you sacrificed. I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing if it wasn't for you. I'm so sorry for the suffering you had to go through but please know how grateful I am.”
I tried so hard to keep it together and I could see he was having the same problem.
He took his hand and affectionately tapped me on the shoulder. His way of selflessly saying you're welcome. Even as I write this, I've turned into a blubbering mess.
Everything we do on Memorial Day and indeed in every day life... road trips, barbecues, visiting loved ones, traveling... are all possible because of war veterans.
I never got his name but that's okay... I don't know the names of all his buddies either or all the names of every veteran but every Memorial Day and beyond, I'll always remember my encounter with him and be forever grateful to him and all war veterans for my freedom.
With so many soldiers dying in Iraq today, it's important, so important, to never ever forget what the military does for us. Regardless of your political view or your religious beliefs, it's so important to support and pray for the troops. Those past, passed, present and future.