My favorite veteran was once just a guy who taught me how to climb trees, jump across creeks, and shoot a lay-up.
Before he ever picked up a gun. Before he trained for weeks at Parris Island in the dog days of Summer. He was a little boy with the power to grant or deny me access to his latest fort in the woods across from our house.
It was this time ten years ago when my oldest brother was serving in Iraq. It doesn’t seem like it’s been anywhere close to that long. I was a junior in high school. I remember that Veterans Day better than any other because it was the first time I really understood why.
Like every other kid in chorus class I knew why we always practiced the Marine Corps Hymn or God Bless America to perform in front of the entire school.
I knew we got shortened classes for the day because school wide events meant special scheduling.
I knew that at least one person sitting near me would feel a personal connection to the holiday.
I remember sitting in the gym, pretending to listen to some guy tell his story of war and return from war. I remember not paying attention. All I could think about was the guy who taught me you should never eat two dozen Krispy Kremes in one sitting… the guy who used to come into my bedroom in the morning with multiple outfits in his hands to ask which matched best…. the guy who sent notes threatening any of my potential prom dates from a base somewhere in the middle of Iraq.
And without hearing even a moment of the man’s actual speech, I finally knew why he was there.