Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg - or perhaps another sort of inner steel, the soul's ally forged in the refinery of adversity. Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can't tell a vet just by looking.
He is the cop on the beat
who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day
making sure the armored personnel carriers didn't run out of fuel.
He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.
She - or he - is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.
He is the POW who went away one person and came back another - or did not come back at all.
He is the drill instructor who has never seen combat, but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into soldiers, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.
He is the parade riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.
His is the career logistician who stands in the crowd, watching the ribbons and medals pass him by.
He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb of the Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor died unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.
He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket - palsied now and aggravatingly slow - who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.
He is the ordinary and yet extraordinary human being - a person who offered som of his life's most vital years in the service of his country and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.
He is a soldier, a sailor, airman or marine, and a savior and a sword against the darkness and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.
So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say "Thank-you." That's all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.
Two little words mean a lot: "Thank-you."
Remember November 11 is Veterans Day. It is the sailor, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, what has given us freedom of speech. It is the marine, not the campus organizer who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the airman, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.
By Denis O'Brien, a priest in the U.S. Marine Corps
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