Tomorrow is Veterans Day and I’m sorry to admit that until a few years ago, I hardly ever noticed Veterans Day on the calendar. When you work for companies that don’t recognize the day as a holiday it’s too easy to ignore.
My daughter’s elementary school made a huge production out of Veterans Day every year. They started planning months ahead. They got the kids to invite every veteran they knew and the older grades put on a musical extravaganza. It was hard to walk through the school the day of the program without tears. Everywhere you looked there were little kids proudly escorting their favorite veterans—fathers, uncles, neighbors, friends, and even a few aunts and moms, but lots of grandfathers. There were flags waving and cameras flashing. One year my parents came all the way from Florida for the big event and my Dad said it was one of the best programs he had ever been a part of.
Today I am a contract worker on an assignment with the US Department of Veterans Affairs. It is a wonderful organization that does a lot of amazing things to honor those who have served. This afternoon the US Secretary of Veterans Affairs sent out an email to all VA employees in observance of Veteran’s Day. It included an inspiring message to more than 300,000 employees as well as a link to a website where we could view photos of some of the 100,000 veterans who work for VA.
When I opened the link and began to see some of the photos I was overcome with appreciation and admiration for these men and women who have served their country and now continue to serve those who have served. I was also surprised that I felt a little jealous. Every day, my work is geared toward serving Veterans and I’m a little jealous that I’m not a veteran myself. But I tried.
See when I was in 8th grade the guidance counselor at school gave my class a test that measured career ambitions against career expectations and mine didn’t match. They told me that if I wanted to actually do the kinds of things I said I wanted to do I was going to need to go to college and I had checked the box to saying I wasn’t planning to go to college. It wasn’t that I was lazy, I was a preacher’s kid and I knew my parents didn’t have enough money to send me to college. I watched my older brothers trying to hold down jobs while they took classes at the junior college and it seemed like an impossible dream.
Then in high school someone put out an announcement saying that if you wanted to go to college but didn’t have money for college, you should come to a meeting in Room 204. I thought, “Yes! This is just what I need.” Turned out it was a meeting with a Navy Recruiter. I watched the presentation with interest and couldn’t wait to tell my parents all about it.
That afternoon after I got off the bus and walked down the long driveway, I found my mother at the sewing machine in her bedroom. I showed her the materials and was bubbling over with the spiel about “Join the Navy. See the World.” But my mother blew up my ship before it ever even left the port.
My mother simply said, “No.”
Then she said emphatically, “No daughter of mine is joining the Navy and that’s all there is to it.”
I argued, “But they’ll pay for college.”
She said, “We will find another way to pay for college.” Then she left the room and the conversation was over.
Modern military recruiters are backed by entire advertising campaigns geared toward parents like my mother. But I doubt they could have swayed her.
In the end my Mother was right. I didn’t personally have The Right Stuff for the Navy—or the Army or the Air Force either for that matter. And we did figure out another way to pay for college.
But some of the girls I went to school with did join the military. THEY did have the Right Stuff. They served in far-flung locations and they’ve seen the world. Today THEY are Veterans. They are still beautiful, still ladies. And I’m proud to know them. I’m thankful for their service to our country and thankful their mothers were more open to the idea of women in the military than mine was.
So to all my Veteran friends and VA co-workers, male AND FEMALE: thank you and Happy Veterans Day.