It had been a long time since I’d celebrated Veterans Day in public. Yet there I was, this past Veterans Day, standing (thankfully) in a crowded elementary school. Every hallway was jammed full of children waiting to honor our special guests.
It was as quiet as 300 children in one hallway can be, but then it got absolutely silent. The flag of the United States of America rounded the corner and we proudly watched the Parade of Veterans travel before our very eyes.
Some were old. Very old. A few were in wheelchairs or walkers. Some were young. Very young. And I couldn’t help but wonder about the pain they’d endured in their short lifetime. There were women. There were men. I noticed there were several wives who walked beside their husbands who had served and I realized very quickly that was metaphorical of what they, as a couple, had lived.
Some wore their military uniforms. It was easy to pick out the service men and women engaged in active duty. Some wore t-shirts. Others wore a hat proudly displaying where they’d served. All the anger and bitterness and divisive rhetoric which seems so prevalent these days, suddenly, wasn’t even an issue.
And the children clapped. And we, their teachers, clapped. We clapped and clapped and clapped and clapped. One little boy beside me dared whisper what we were all thinking, “My arms are tired.” But he didn’t stop clapping. And even though my arms too, were uncomfortable, wild horses couldn’t have stopped me from clapping either.
Most had tears in their eyes as they passed us. Who are we kidding? So did I. I saw so, so many familiar faces; I saw men and women in my community who I’d grown up knowing and sharing with in life. We’d been instructed to simply clap, and I certainly didn’t want to draw attention to myself and away from them, but when several of them saw me, they reached out to me. They greeted me by name and I greeted them by name in return. Many reached out to take my hand and share their beautiful smile with me. A few welcomed me on my return to teaching in their community school. But I tried to keep the conversations brief. With each service man or woman who met my eyes I simply uttered a slightly audible, yet incredibly sincere, “Thank you.”
It was one of the most deeply moving moments of which I’ve ever taken part. When it was over one little guy asked, “Gee, Mrs. Jagger, do you know everyone?” I put my hand on his shoulder and smiled, “Just about, hon, just about.”
As I once sat pinned in a horrible wreck on a West Virginia highway, I thought about very few things, but I did think of this. I literally remember sitting there in agonizing physical and emotional pain and thinking, “If I were in a war and hurt this badly the enemy would still be trying to kill me, yet all these people around me are trying to help me.” It puts watching any war movie where soldiers risk their lives to go back and help a fallen comrade into much greater perspective for me.
I can’t pretend to even begin to comprehend what our service men and women have endured through the years but I will tell you this: one day a few weeks ago I finally felt as if I was able to thank them in a small but real way. And so I say to any veteran, or current armed forces member, or any family member who lives with the uncertainty, fear, and hardships that I can only imagine you endure, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Until next Wednesday, Lord willing.