Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Instilling respect and gratitude in future generations

Veteran’s Day is an important day around my house – as is Memorial Day, Pearl Harbor Day … You get the pattern.

As a parent you set a lot of goals for yourself when you have children. My list is long, but high up on that list is to instill in my children a deep respect and gratitude for the men and women who have served and who are serving our country in the armed services.
Daniel Craig, a member of the
Grain Valley Marching Eagles,
plays taps atop the U.S.S. Bowfin
over Thanksgiving week 2013.

I can remember distinctly the day I vowed to myself that’s how I would raise my kids.

I was in my early 20s when the National Guard unit stationed in the town where I grew up was sent to Iraq. The town was collectively stunned. It was a small community in northwest Arkansas with a rather large National Guard unit. I doubt there was anyone who wasn’t personally connected to someone who was “going to war.”

For me, my connection was my high school basketball coach – who I adored. Coach Moore left his wife and two daughters, who were right around my age, to go serve.

I wrote coach letters every now and then. Mainly because I liked the guy and it just seemed like the right thing to do. But it turned into a lot more than that.

One of the last letters he sent before coming home really sat me down and made me think. In the letter he asked if there were people who “hate us like they did after Vietnam.”

Admittedly, I was very young when Vietnam ended. I had no recollection of how it really was. All I could tell you was what I learned in the history books. And they fell short on what our soldiers faced when they came home.

I looked out the newspaper office windows and tried to digest his question.

Here we were back home with yellow ribbons tied around everything that didn’t move. Flags lined up and down Main Street. Banners were hung showing support of our troops, everywhere.

I wrote back and told him that he was about to see a heroes’ welcome.

Time has blurred the detail on whether the letter reached him in time. What I remember clearly was seeing him on that float that carried our Guard unit through town during the welcome home parade.

Jake Jones, center, performs with the Grain Valley Marching Eagles
at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial Thanksgiving week 2013
As I was perched on a corner lamp post (being the diligent journalist photographing the event), I smiled and waved at him when they rounded the corner. He sort of dropped his head and shook it in disbelief and then looked up and smiled.

Coach was a tough dude. That smile spoke volumes. He finally knew what it meant to be a veteran who was treated with respect, honored and thanked for his service.

Then and there I swore if I ever had kids, I would teach them to show respect and gratitude like coach saw and felt the second time around after serving his country.

I won’t go so far as to say “mission accomplished,” but my kiddos do make me proud when I see them walk up to a vet and ask to shake his or her hand. When they were younger, you would have thought they were meeting rock stars when they ran into someone in fatigues at the store.

Now as teens they are getting the bigger and ultimate sacrifices many have made.

Perhaps the most poignant example is my son Jake.
Grain Valley Marching Eagles lay a wreath at the U.S.S. Arizona shrine.
The wall lists all the men who died on the U.S.S. Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941

The Grain Valley Marching Eagles high school band was invited to perform at Pearl Harbor this past Thanksgiving. Here you have 150 some-odd kids on a trip to Hawaii. I couldn’t help but wonder what they would get out of it beyond a righteous tan.

The band performed at the U.S.S. Missouri and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. They were also the featured band at the Waikiki Holiday Parade – a parade dedicated to remembering the fallen and honoring military heroes and survivors of Pearl Harbor.

The memories from that trip are powerful for Jake, as they are with all the kids, having met survivors and stood on sacred ground. He still talks often of being over the site of the U.S.S. Arizona and watching the oil bubble up from the wreckage below – tears of the Arizona they are sometimes called.

He called home the night after he visited the memorial.

“Mom, there were so many who died there. There are so many that have died since then. And, here we are a bunch of kids in a parade for survivors. How do we ever do them justice in honoring them?”

I would say his concern in not doing enough is reason enough to think that he gets it.