On Veterans Day
“My Lifelong Thanks”
I was a great big second-grader as the Independence Day parade approached.
The first wave was men in old uniforms.
They did not walk,
Firmly holding their flags aloft,
A shrunken soldier remembered Cuba and the Spanish-American War.
A grandfather with sagging shoulders had sailed to France for the Great War.
A strong man like my father had traveled the world—Europe, Asia or Africa—in World War II.
A young dad had halted the advance of communism in Korea.
I held my hand over my heart.
Here and there along the sidewalk veterans held a hand firmly against an eyebrow,
Their backs straight as iron rods,
Their toes pointed squarely forward.
These were the men who sold me groceries,
Barbered my hair,
Repaired our car,
Volunteered to rush to fires,
Drove the police car,
And sang in the men’s chorus at church.
The band blared and boomed.
The floats fired fusillades of color.
The horses whinnied grace and strength.
Walking back to our Chevy,
We passed the color guard.
These men in old uniforms huddled around a cooler.
Clutching their cans,
Chuckling at each other’s stories,
Remembering their buddies who were forever absent.
Soon after, my big brothers’ classmates came home from Vietnam,
Strong, razor-sharp young men.
When I began college their less fortunate comrades
Sat in the back of my classes.
They marched to the outdoor ashtray when class ended,
Then wandered the campus—lost.
Time marched on.
Far away I taught English where people rode on the roofs of buses.
The walls around my home each wore a Mohawk of embedded glass.
My friends were kidnapped and executed.
When I approached my embassy,
Alert, erect Marines welcomed me inside.
On the 4th of July we swam together,
Playing hot potato with a 50-pound block of ice.
The Marines chopped the water with
Precise butterfly and backstroke,
Smiling and unaware that soon
Brigands would attack,
Bricks and weapons in hand.
Meanwhile, I enjoyed a hot dog and apple pie
Instead of my usual rice and lentils.
Home again, I re-entered the college classroom,
Now on the other side of the podium.
Some of my students spent weekends in the National Guard.
Others told me their stories from the Gulf War in Kuwait.
Time rolled forward.
My brother’s son flew to Afghanistan
And stood with his comrades against chaos.
Today my nieces and nephews sweat and strain in camouflage.
They risk their lives for me.
They tie their boots as the shrunken old men did in Cuba.
They cinch their belts as the slump-shouldered veterans did in WWI France.
They count their push-ups as my father did when he sailed to Japan.
They polish their boots as my father-in-law did when he trained to fight in Korea.
They salute as my PTSD classmates did in Vietnam.
They shout “Yes, sir” as my students did in Kuwait.
They sweat shoulder to shoulder with veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Tonight I lay my head on a soft pillow.
Around the globe my heroes stand alert and erect,
Ready to bleed and die for me and for my family.
I humbly offer my lifelong thanks.