If only we had known what to ask what we might have learned.
We were surrounded by veterans growing up. Every uncle served, and most of them in the war.
My mom's brother lied about his age and joined the Army when he was 16. He ended up in a German prisoner of war camp for three years. He lost part of his hearing from one beating. When he came to visit, we were kids raised on "Hogan's Heroes" and "F Troop." We didn't know much about real war. We thought it was cool to ask, "How many Germans did you kill?" Uncle Chuck, who had a loud hearty laugh, would get quiet, and just soflty say, "War isn't like you see on TV."
Then there was mom's brother Michael. The quiet man. He never spoke of war. He was one of the original Rangers. Darby's Rangers. They trained in secret and my mom didn't know where he was through most of the war, until the day the telegram came that he was being sent home. He had contracted malaria and nearly died.
My dad flew more than 30 missions as a tail gunner. I never quite knew what that meant until one day he took us to a tiny airport in Akron where they displayed old war planes. How in the world did my dad, all 6' 2" of him, squeeze into the back of that tiny plane?
All my dad's pictures of the war show a row of tail gunners, most of them short guys, then that tall, thin drink of water, my dad, always a foot taller. We found out he asked to be a tail gunner so he could send more money back home to his poor family. The job was dangerous so it paid more.
My uncle Chuck, my Uncle Mike, my dad, they're all gone.
But other veterans are among us. Today, on the 11 hour of the 11 day of the 11 month, let us pause and give thanks for every single one of them. For guys who gave up the lives they planned for the lives they ended up living once they came back. For guys who still wake with shakes and terror from the jungles of Vietnam. For guys who left a part of their soul in Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan. For the forgotten women who have served for decades.
Veterans who are now greeters at Wal Mart, grocery store baggers trying to earn a buck, homeless drifters whose inner demons can't be beat. Veterans who are now simply grandpa and grandma, mom and dad, the guy next door, the math teacher, the usher at church.
Pray for them all. Take the time to learn their stories, and if they don't want to share their stories, pray for them even harder.