My dad is in the parade today in the town I grew up in. He's not marching – this year he gets to ride on the float. And he's with the Rotary Club, not the Veterans.
But if he chose, he could march with the WWII vets.
He enlisted in the Navy when he was underage because he didn't want to get drafted and have someone else decide how he should serve.
I've seen pictures of him on the ships – tall, skinny kid, dark hair, shirt off, with his buddies, his smile typically modest, even then.
He doesn't talk much about that time. He was not career military. He served, and he came home, and he went back to being a civilian.
On my husband's side of the family, it's a little different. My husband's late father was in the Navy, as was his brother. I never knew Bill's father, but I knew his uncle, who passed away a few years ago from cancer. He was always smiling, this uncle, and his Navy days were always such a part of who he was. One year I made him a cake shaped like the aircraft carrier he served on. He kept in touch with many of his Navy buddies. It was a huge part of his life.
One of Bill's older brothers served in the Air Guard, and his son does as well. Desert Storm for the father, Afghanistan and Iraq for the son.
Mostly, none of them talk about the bad times. The ugly times. The horror. The death. The stories I hear are lighter – goofy things a bunch of guys did when they had time to act their ages. It's easier to talk about those things. Especially around non-military people who just weren't there and wouldn't understand. Not completely.
My dad was a radio operator - radio as in Morse code transmittions, not the spoken word. He scribbled down messages as they came in. His handwriting is a casualty of the war – jagged, jerky chicken scratch illegible to most people.
He doesn't talk about the loss. About a sister ship that disappeared one night, along with all the men – boys, really – aboard. Like I said, he doesn't talk about that time at all. I suspect there is too much pain there, and my dad is a sensitive man.
He also doesn't live in the past. He served, yes, but that was a long time ago.
He's done other things since then, and I think that's why he hangs with the Rotarians in the parade. He's still an active member, and he'd much rather focus on what is going on in his life here and now, instead of what happened years ago. And the Rotarian motto is, after all, "Service above Self." Kind of similar, right? But in a more peaceful venue, which is more to my dad's taste.
So if I were to say to him "Thank you, Dad, for your service all those years ago," he would (and does) smile modestly and nod his appreciation…and then he'd probably change the subject.
Thank you, Dad. For your service all those years ago. And for all the ways you've served since then. I am proud to be your daughter.
And Thank You, also, to all the men and women who have served, who serve now, and those who will serve one day. Thank you.
Thank you. It cannot be said too many times.