Look at that. That is my mother in 1974, a year after I was born, having joined the army to do everything she could to protect and defend her child….even joining the army.
(She is probably reading that right now and laughing with, “We needed the money!”)
Now, let me give you a little back story. Throughout my entire life my father has always been the idea of a veteran. He was career military, an officer, having spent just a touch more than 20 years defending this country. He was 82nd, 5/502nd, red beret. And my mother had her career as a civil servant. She wore delightful dresses to work, came home, made dinner, made sure we did our homework, then tucked us into bed.
Typical mom, right?
My life growing up in a military family had my father as the ultimate soldier, and my mother as career woman who still took care of dinner and the domestic needs of the house….always in these really pretty, simple dresses while my father was busy tending to his ambition. (To be fair to him, his only real ambition was to incredibly well so that he could his family anything they wanted). So, even though both my parents were in the service, it was my father who got the majority of the credit when it came to be a soldier.
My life growing up in the military was always full of boys and men. Since my father was an officer, sometimes we would have Thanksgiving dinner in the mess hall with those young kids so far away from home, scared to death, lonely, but hopeful at the same time. Sometimes my father would invite them out to our home in the country, to get them out of the barracks so they could just sit back on a couch, swim in the pool, use the phone to talk as long as they wanted with their families long distance, and have a home cooked meal.
My life in the military wasn’t filled with women….
Until one day we were at a Veteran’s Day service in a little country church in North Carolina. The preacher gave this amazing sermon about our soldiers, our veterans, their sacrifices, their fears, their love for this country, their bravery….and how vital it was to recognize them, to acknowledge them and say “Thank you for putting your life in harm’s way to defend our freedoms.”
Then he asked all the veterans in the congregation to rise so that we could thank them and pray for them.
The important men were the first to rise, proudly with chest forward in their dress greens, the young boys following one second after in their fatigues.
I’m sitting in the pew, staring at my shoes, fascinated with the pennies in my loafers and how shiny I got them. I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t paying attention. I’m 13. I’m in church and it must be an important church day because dad is in his fancy uniform.
When suddenly my mother stands….
With one precise movement she rises to her feet, lets go of her pocket book, and clasps her hands behind her as though she were at ease. No dress greens, no fatigues. Just a simple blue dress with little peach flowers.
I sat there staring at her in amazement. Honestly, I thought she was being a dutiful wife, standing beside her husband….until I realized that no one else’s wife stood….and that the same posture that my mother now had in her stance was just as perfectly executed in formation with the men and boys. She wasn’t just a veteran….she was a soldier, just like the rest of them. Proud to stand, proud to serve.
She may have been the only woman standing….but, she was being acknowledged as a soldier, as a veteran, just like everyone else. I saw her as my mom, parishioners saw her as a woman, but she saw herself only as a veteran.
All eyes were on my mother. She wasn’t boastful, didn’t accept a different form of praise for being a woman. No, she stood there with the same humility and call to readiness as any other soldier, as any other veteran.
That was the day I realized that heroes are not as obvious as they sometimes appear.
I come from a family that is saturated with veterans. My grandfather, my uncles, my aunt, a few cousin, my own parents. But, it is my mother that I always acknowledge on Veteran’s Day because I cannot imagine the sacrifices that must be made when you’re a soldier and a mom.
It cannot be easy leaving your newborn behind to go to boot camp for weeks. As a veteran mom, you can’t just leave work and go pick up your kid from school because they’re sick. Veteran moms don’t get the ease of planning the bake sale with the PTA at school because they’re on alert and might be deployed at any moment.
But, she did it. And did it effortlessly.
Every Veteran’s Day we give thanks to the men and women of uniform who protect and defend this nation.
But, I take a moment to show respect and gratitude to the one soldier I think sacrificed more for me and my country than any other veteran: my mom.
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