I'm going to be honest. Veteran's Day has never been a big holiday in my mind. For me, it's come and gone quickly over the years, leaving me wrapped up and selfish in my own little world.
As the daughter of a Vietnam Vet, I didn't get a lot of the war talk that maybe other people did. My dad is quiet to begin with, but on the subject of the war, he's always been a little like a lockbox.
Except for the occasional moment where the floodgates open and I hear the stories, stories that are often being told to my husband...and I always feel like I should be taking notes because I know that is a world I will never understand.
The truth is, I've grown up not having any idea what it was like for my dad and the other men and women who fought in that particular war. This weekend, I got a tiny peek inside how damaging it was for them--to go to a foreign country to fight on the behalf of our nation--and to be welcomed home as outcasts.
Can you imagine seeing a soldier in the airport and spitting on him, knowing he'd spent the last year away from his family in Iraq or Afghanistan? My dad wasn't drafted--he went willingly. He felt it was his duty. When so many were fleeing to Canada, my dad stepped up.
It's just the kind of man he is.
Well, this weekend, finally, he received a bit of thanks for his efforts over there all those years ago. I am so thankful I was able to go home and be there for this unique and memorable occasion...
My uncle is Illinois State Senator Tim Bivins, and he had the great idea to have his campaign fundraiser on Veteran's Day. He also had the great idea to replace the missing medals my dad had earned in Vietnam...among them, two purple hearts.
While my mom thought they'd managed to keep the whole thing a secret from my dad, he is one smart cookie...and somehow let her believe she was a good liar.
She's not. At all.
But she was determined not to say anything, because she was afraid (as we all were) that if he found out ahead of time, he'd refuse to go. Thankfully, he played along. And while I know he isn't comfortable being singled out...I also know how much he appreciated this gesture.
The crowd stood and applauded for the sacrifice my dad had made, and while he pointed out there were many, many others who had made similar sacrifices, it was such a huge blessing to be there to see them recognize his. No matter how out of place it made him feel.
Finally, after too many years, we were able to give my dad the recognition he'd deserved all those years ago. How special that I could be there when Don Manzullo listed off each medal, each injury, each accomplishment. The sharpshooter award. An award for being one of those crazy guys who jumps out of planes. Awards that now hang behind glass in a place of prominence...like they always should have.
(My uncle John, Uncle Tim, my mom & dad)
I think for the first time, I got a true sense of the life my dad had lived before any of us were ever born. And it made me thankful. Thankful that I live in this country. Thankful that I am free. And especially...thankful to be the daughter of this man, who, even without the medals, has always been a hero to me.