This post was written by the proud daughter of a very proud veteran. Her name has not been used to protect his privacy.
On Friday, November 11th, you will likely see your social media accounts flooded with memes and pictures of flags captioned with “Thank you for your service” and “Enjoy your freedom? Thank a vet!” Veterans Day is coming up, which means we will all be reminded that freedom isn’t free and other clichéd sayings that roll off the tongue with self-congratulatory ease. But to our veterans and veterans family members, November 11th might hold a bit more significance than a well-intentioned social media shout-out can convey.
As the daughter of a longtime member of the United States military, Veterans Day has special significance for me, but it’s not all warm and fuzzy nostalgia and gratefulness.
My father served in the Marine Corps for 21 years. He spent two tours in Vietnam and continued to serve upon his return to the United States. He enlisted when he was 19 years old, spent the next 21 years, his entire twenties and thirties, serving his country.
My dad served his country, ready to defend it with his life for over two decades. When I think of what he sacrificed, what he endured during his two tours at war, when I think of his years spent in uniform, sworn to uphold our freedom, I feel a fierce pride and Veterans Day reminds me of that pride. It reminds me that my father swore and oath to do everything in his power to protect his country and his countrymen.
My heart swells.
But Veterans Day also reminds me of his scars. The emotional and physical scars and the burden he carried for years and still carries. And I wonder how different my family would be, how differently our lives would have turned out if he hadn’t had to carry that burden or bear those scars.
War is hell, right? And hell isn’t easy to wash off. It leaves marks on your heart and your soul. Marks that you bring home to your family and that become part of their lives as well as your own. Their upbringing is forever marked by your experience, the time you spent protecting and defending. Your family wears your scars and helps carry your burden as part of their experience. Your burden—your scars—become part of them.
So when I see the “Thanks for your service” American flag memes that blow up Facebook every November, I am proud of my dad, proud of his service—but I’m also nostalgic for the childhood, the family, the life that his service to our country denied me. And I wonder if he’d never enlisted, never gone to war and earned his scars, how would my life be right now? How would my childhood have been? What would be different?
And I guess that’s what Veterans Day really means to me.
Veterans Day means Thank you, but it also means What if.