Dad and I will head out to the Veterans Day Ceremony at the Gerlad B.H. Solomon National Cemetery in Schylerville, NY. The usual suspects in attendance. The aging heroes of World War II and the prisoners of wars will be seated in a neat row of white chairs planted in the frosty lawn amidst the now naked pear trees. In front of these aging icons the American flag will smartly snap in the November wind as an honorary speaker addresses the assemblage of family, friends, and citizens.
Sprinkled through those who gather will be those who once served their country. Some come in anonymity. You’ll never know that they gave a part of their youth to the military. Some come in black vests and biker bandanas carrying flags over their shoulders, the lost Viet Nam vet. Others wear ball caps that display their War, their ship, their branch of military service.
An honor guard will present arms. Taps will drift over the headstoned fields, the lonesome notes disappearing into the thick woods where revolutionaries once fought the British. After a brief proclamation made on behalf of an absentee governor and a few patriotic songs the crowd will disperse. Like Christmas after all the presents are open, the holiday is over.
There is nothing particularly exciting about these ceremonies. There are no lights and action is slow. There is nothing that makes the jaw drop or eyes pop. Nothing that tantalizes and pushes the adrenaline. The speeches can be so-so. The entertainment marginal. Even the prayers can lack inspiration. And yet, people come. Every year, they come. Somehow people drop busy lives and make their way to the cemetery. For an hour people of all ages gathered to wade into a pool of history.
For a moment, you can stand in the very presence of greatness. Not the sensationalized greatness made of media blitzes and much fanfare. But greatness made of humbleness. They will be there. The one with an untold story. The story of laying on the beach for 30 days at Iwo Jima and not seeing one Japanese solider but instead thousands of dead Americans. Of the night chopper landing in a damp jungle while fighting vertigo but, determined to resupply the guys on the ground. Or securing 10,000 detainees at Abu Ghraib. Of 26 missions over Germany before being shot down. Of one night in a sleeping bag buried in a snow cave thinking the whole damn exercise was stupid.
We come to say thank you for doing something we never could have done, or couldn't ever imagine.