Each year this comes around and each year it's a bit different for me. This year, it's drastically different. Through my experiences and friendships gained via KMD, it's given me a different perspective. I've always respected those that have and do serve our country, no matter my opinion on what we should, or should not, be fighting for/over. The fact that someone will risk everything for their brothers and sisters in arms is something that everyone of every belief, every creed, every race, can respect. Through training with vets, being trained by vets, meeting currently active operators and being inspired by those who respect them, it's a whole new thing.
I shot a small ceremony on Sunday in White Lake for the Free Press. Only a few people gathered to honor a few vets and were soon off to the VFW for stories and hotdogs. None the less, a super important assignment for me.
My father and three uncles all served in WWII (yes, THAT WWII), and after witnessing GRC771 , it made me really think about their sacrifices. One of my uncles was a bombardier and had been shot down three times through the course of his service, once resulting in him becoming a POW and effectively MIA. That uncle and one other are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where I will be headed this week for just one day. Simply to experience it, pay respects, take a drive and spend some time.
Today Ian and I headed to White Chapel Cemetery in Troy to pay respects to my father and his brother Ed. I had intended to get a couple of flags to place at their gravesites but forgot on the way and had hoped there would be some at the cemetery office, unfortunately to no avail. We headed out in the wind, rain and sleet, brushing off the leaf and weed-covered headstones in search of my dad and uncle.
Ian already had a tradition of clearing the headstones of "forgotten" veterans on Memorial and/or Veterans' Day, so he figured he would come along. After we had found the headstone of my dad, I had used my pocket knife to cut away all the overgrown grass. My hands wet, cold, painful to the touch, I cleaned up the mud as best I could for the weather conditions. As I was finishing up, I noticed Ian walking towards the headstone with something in his hand. He walked up to the headstone and unfolded a small American flag that had been left or forgotten and, with care, placed it upon the headstone. Pressed it down, straightened it out and stood up to make sure it was done right. A gesture that I will neither forget nor ever truly understand the power of.
After taking care of dad's gravesite, we set out to find Uncle Ed's. After a bit of walking around and pushing aside leaves, we found it and I cleaned it up the same as dads. The best I could manage with what I had. We headed back to the car, getting out of the cold and rain and took a moment and enjoyed the warmth and shelter. There was one thing left to do. We headed over to the WWII monument at the cemetery to pay respects. We ended up clearing off a couple dozen gravesites of many young soldiers whose lives had ended while fighting a threat to the world. Brushing off the leaves, reading the names, reading the dates. Heading back to the car once again offered reprieve from the elements. Conditions that were far less harsh than any European winter any of those men experienced. Far less harsh than any stifling hot day in the Pacific.
To those of you that may be reading this that serve or have served... Thank you.