Since I am married to a 24-year Army veteran, it seems right to acknowledge this day set aside to honor those who have chosen to defend our country.
The issue of what constitutes a military hero in recent days has made me do some thinking about its definition. A peculiar word has kept popping into my mind as I have considered the question – waiting.
In a letter written while he was in basic training, my husband said the motto of the Army was “Hurry up and wait.” Ironically, waiting may have been his most significant contribution during his career.
During the withdrawal of American troops from South Viet Nam, soldiers were held there until their assignments were finished. Since he dealt with classified materials which would be among the last things to go, we knew he would be able to leave only after the documents were shipped. Finally, he called to tell me his papers were gone, and he would begin waiting his turn in the plane rotation the next day.
But the next day’s evening news reported that all troop withdrawals from South Viet Nam were halted until the last group of POWs had been airlifted from North Viet Nam. Fear that the agreement for their release would not be honored led to a decision to keep a last group of soldiers in South Viet Nam – 17 days doing nothing but waiting – but serving as a guarantee that all the POWs would come home.
Waiting envelops military families. Waiting for the next assignment. Waiting for quarters. Waiting for a parent to come home from an overseas assignment. Waiting to hear that a spouse under fire is safe. And sometimes the ultimate – waiting for a body to come home for burial.
I’ve known countless service members and their families. I’ve taught their children, who were often the waiters. I’ve never known one who wanted the title of hero. They were just doing their jobs. Many family members are like me and would tell you the military lifestyle gave far more than it took away.
Still, if we want to name a hero, it will certainly include those who gave their lives and those who endured POW camps. I would add those who lived with the knowledge that death was always a possibility. And to paraphrase a quote from John Milton, I would contend, “Heroes are also those who stand and wait.”
On this day and every day, may God bless our veterans and their families who wait for them and support them.