It was Mrs. Caiola. She lives up the street and she had jumped into what has become an annual ritual before I’d even finished one cup of coffee. She had noticed me walking my dog Max past her house, just as she often does, and called out to me. I stopped and stared at her for a moment feeling a bit confused.
I had forgotten it was Veterans Day.
“You’re welcome, Mrs. Caiola. And thanks.”
“I called Donny last night. He’s doing great!”
Don is Mrs. Caiola’s grandson. He was injured pretty badly in Iraq in some sort of truck accident. He’s back home now, returned to civilian life, married with one… possibly two kids. I’m not sure. I also don’t know how “great” he’s doing. Last I’d heard, Don didn’t have a job.
When I first moved to this area, I would occasionally see Mrs. Caiola out in front of her house or walking down the street. We never really spoke and were pretty much strangers. That changed when I ran into her at the American Legion post where we were hosting a dart tournament. She recognized me and exclaimed that she’d had no idea I was a veteran. From that moment on, everything changed. She always stops me to say hello. She has, on occasion, rushed out to give me a sample of whatever baked goods she’s whipping up in her kitchen. She buys treats for my dog. She regularly visits the Legion, the VFW and wounded servicemen in the hospital.
Mrs. Caiola likes veterans. A lot.
Most of the vets I know will say they occasionally get embarrassed by these sorts of things. But recognizing and remembering veterans may actually do more for the rest of the country than for the vets themselves. On rare occasions it can prod Congress into doing their jobs. And once in a while it can even prompt those who might not give as much thought to it as they might otherwise into passing along a positive message.
“But the veterans with whom I’ve had the privilege to work aren’t asking that we salute them at every football game. That’s not what they’re about. They did a job they signed up for, and did it well. Soon they’ll be coming home from Iraq. How should we honor them? If you’re in the role of hiring, look carefully at what vets can offer. If you’re in education, encourage them to return to our universities and listen to what they have to say.
“They appreciate those two days a year we mention their service. But to me, it’s more important what we do in the other 363.”
The real, hard core combat heroes who are regularly recognized uniformly shrug off the term “hero.” They aren’t offended, but the term doesn’t sit comfortably with them. The real heroes didn’t make it back home on their feet. This is something that has been true for as long as I can remember. My dad was a war hero from World War 2, Purple Heart and all. You couldn’t even get him to talk about it unless it was just between him and his war buddies over a couple of beers. None of them thought they were heroes.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate a little nod of recognition for what they’ve done. So if you’re out and about today and you come across somebody who served – at any time, in peace or war – don’t be bashful. Go ahead and stop for a moment and say “thanks.”
We really don’t mind.