The closing strains of the national anthem drown in the roar of the U.S. Air Force jet as it buzzes low over the line of veterans in their vintage cars. World War II. The Korean War. Vietnam. The Gulf War. POWs. Iraq, Afghanistan, and more. They're all represented here on the street of small town Shasta Lake where babies, teens, parents, and grandparents line the streets under the cool northern California sun. No one cringes at the thunder of the fly by. No one fears. And that in itself is tribute to the veterans we honor. They've won and preserved our safety. They defend us. They are the "good guys."
“What a great country we live in,” says a random man who strolls out to a convertible to shake the hand of CA senator Ted Gaines, “when a military jet flies by to commemorate a parade," and the Senator, just one of us, agrees and calls attention to the blue sky and the beautiful day. There's honor in the air.
Yes, it's tangible, the honor for these veterans and the ones they represent who have served and are serving in our great nation's military. With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I watch the cars pass, waving my flag and feeling so thankful. One old vehicle passes carrying a veteran of 35 missions on a B24 in World War II. He rides quiet and silver haired, looking like someone's grandpa dressed in military uniform: but there was a day--many days, when he was a young man in the belly or the pilot seat of a bomber, not sure he would make it back to friendly soil. Doing something he wished he didn't have to do, but proud on the behalf of a nation that depended on him and all those like him to hold onto freedom with their bare hands.
I see another WWII veteran--James Broack, 102 years old, with as brave a heart as ever beat, even though he rides quietly in the parade. Yes, the bravery is palpable today. I'm feeling the weight of it. Heritage and history strung out in front of me, and the weight of generations represented here. That's another thing that strikes me. Kids and grand kids ride police launches, Swiss ammo carts and firetrucks; middle school to high school marching bands blazoning out She's a Grand old Flag and Salute to the Armed Forces. Two-year-old baton twirlers; a tiny BMX rider with a pink helmet and maybe three years to her credit join soldiers, sailors, and special forces. These are the ones those military personnel held in their hearts in the jungles and deserts of their campaigns. And these are their reward.
My dad, a machinist's mate on a destroyer in the Korean War could have been in this parade, and how he would have enjoyed the quiet company of his fellow sailors. I want to run out and hug the valiant men and women I see passing before me, and I hope they know that all across the country in thousands of parades small and great, grateful people gather to say thank you and to give honor.
Thank you veterans old and young, active or retired. It’s because of you and your fellow soldiers we sit safely by the sidelines in a little California town. May we who now run carry the baton in a worthy way, worthy of those who did and still do their best on our behalf, and remind those children twirling batons or playing the drums what it costs to be this safe and this free.
Happy Veteran's Day. And on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you!