Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Real heroes don't wear capes

There is no unselfish service. I always end up better off.

This morning I headed over to a local home for the elderly to visit with the woman the hospice agency had paired me up with. I arrived to find her on a couch with a few others, listening to a woman with a guitar, so I sat down next to her, whispered hello and settled in.

I sat next to my friend as the singer distributed flags representing each of the Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard. Then she sang the anthems of each. As she did, I remembered being a teenager and going with my family to an Independence Day service at a local church. When the time came for the bands to play these anthems, the speaker asked those who had served in each branch to stand when the anthem played.

I remember thinking, as my dad stood and sang the words for the U.S. Army song, that he was proud to be a veteran. I'd never thought he was ashamed; I just don't remember thinking about it much at all. But I knew then that he was proud of it. And I remember being proud of him. He'd done what others had not. At 18, I don't know that he thought of his sacrifice in that way; he saw the Army as a good day to grow up and the GI bill as a good way to pay for college. But he went.

I hadn't heard these songs in years. Now I listened to the man next to me sing "Anchors Aweigh," the Navy song, and a man on the next couch sing the Air Force song, and thought about how much their service meant to them. And I kicked myself for not knowing the words to the Army song, so I could sing them to honor my dad.

It has been my great privilege as a reporter to be at homecomings, to talk to military families, to be their vehicle to express to the world the great love and pride for their military sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. It has been an even greater, albeit much harder privilege to sit in living rooms of grieving families or friends and give them the opportunity to remember, to do one last small thing to immortalize the brave soul who came home in a flag-covered casket.

And it has been the greatest privilege of all to be the child of a soldier.

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