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Take time to say ‘thank you’ to a veteran

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By The Staff

A veteran baseball player strides to the plate; the bases are loaded in a championship game. This is NOT Casey at the bat; one giant swing, and the contention between adversaries is resolved. The game is won; the crowd is ecstatic.

A veteran newspaper reporter cuts through the rhetoric and sound bytes of a political story:his insight allowing him to see the story for what it really is, and his breaking expose brings the truth to light. His byline and story surges around the globe, this rendering of the news becoming a marvel of the Internet.

A veteran heart surgeon holds in her hands tissue and vessels; more importantly, she literally holds a patient’s life in her hands. A family waits expectantly, good news or bad, their eyes searching the surgeon’s face as she carefully slips out of the operating theatre to meet them in the hospital hallway.

An immensely descriptive adjective, this word veteran. It conjures up visions of long-time service, someone well-seasoned, competent because of trials and experiences beyond number.

Consider the word as a noun, and we find a skilled soldier who has likely been through many battles, and perhaps given a long life of service.

Now, the veteran ball-player morphs into an infantryman; in his hand are weapons of war, not the varnished hickory of athletics. He still swings for the fences, but his target is an enemy of these United States, and he is defending those behind Lady Liberty, and thefreedoms we take for granted.

The veteran reporter may, too, be an evolution, a modern-day Joe Galloway, embedded alongside a Col. Hal Moore-like warrior. He may also think, “We Were Soldiers, Once ee And Young!” His battlefield baptism under fire gives him the courage to ask hard questions, to venture where the faint of heart fail. His service to country gives confidence to his readers, and the authenticity of his intelligence provides biting realism to his stories.

The veteran heart surgeon may have practiced her skills under fire in a MASH unit in Korea; she could have developed her confidence in a battalion aid station in Vietnam, or worked in a field hospital in the Persian Gulf. She may be one of the dedicated servants working in a Veterans Administration facility.

I cannot hear the word veteran without the song “More Than a Name on the Wall,” as sung by the Statler Brothers. As the melody is carried by the clear voice of tenor Jimmy Fortune, he begins by retelling the haunting words, “I saw her from a distance, as she walked up to the wall; in her hand she held some flowers as her tears began to fall. And she took out pen and paper as to trace her memories, and she looked up to heaven. ...”

I remember taking an artist’s charcoal pencil and parchment and trying to trace the names of Trimble County soldiers on the Vietnam Wall. The silhouette of the name appeared faint on the off-white leaf of paper; alas, the memory of my friend is but a shadow; my recollections diminished by the passage of time. Yet the name in the granite has been etched by a sand blaster, in much the same way as the soldier’s life carved out our freedom in a world both hard and unforgiving.

Standing at the Wall in Washington, D.C., I remember looking left and right. I was torn, and again a song came to mind: “eemy boy was special, and he meant so much to me; and, Oh I’d love to see him just one more time. You see, all I have are the memories and the moments to recall: So Lord could you tell him, ‘He’s more than a name on a wall!’”

Veterans Day began 90 years ago as Armistice Day, after nearly 120,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen died fighting in Europe. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, with the German signing of the Armistice. After several shifts of dates, and a grand public outcry, Veterans Day was solidified on the 11th day of November of each year. Older celebrants will generally observe two minutes of cessation of activities at 11:00 a.m. on that day to commemorate our memories of those who have served our country.

I am reminded of a commercial that opens in a crowded airport setting, travelers waiting their flights, anxious relatives searching for familiar faces. Suddenly there is spontaneous applause, slow at the beginning but rolling like a wave over the sea of people. The camera pans to a solitary soldier, then another, and then the larger group ee" a company of men and women returning from deployment. One by one, the applause begins to register; the welcome is overdue but not unappreciated.

As Veterans Day 2009 arrives, I implore you to seek out a veteran; thank them for their service to our country. God bless our veterans.

Scott Burrows is a regular columnist for The Trimble Banner.