For Us
Off the Wall, July 3,

Walking through one of the large building supply stores recently, I observed an older gentleman approaching me with a ball cap on his head. What has become common practice to me in the last year or so is to read what is sewn onto the front portion of the hat. Most the time a letter or words denote a sports team such as ‘P’ for the Pittsburgh Pirates or gold letters which spell out the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So, as he got closer to me, I stared at the letters to see what appeared above his visor. There they were, two words that spoke volumes, particularly to those who took part in fighting for our freedom – ‘Vietnam Veteran.’

I reached out my arm hoping he would do the same so as to clasp his hand and from the heart let him know that I appreciated his sacrifice for me and my fellow countrymen. “Thank you” I stated as I look into eyes.

I then continued walking only to turn around when I heard him speak. In a low somber voice, he repeated my words. But then he said something I didn’t expect. “Do you know few people offer me thanks for serving,” he said. A tear came to his eye as did mine.

Here was a senior citizen that laid his life on the line for all Americans, yet few people walk on by never really taking note that a real hero is in one’s midst, someone who thought it was necessary to leave home and fight for what was right – our freedoms which many of us take for granted.

Really now, how hard is it to say “Thank you” to those who have served in the military in any capacity? True, there are those who have served somewhere, sometime, that don’t wear hats publicizing the fact of what war they served. If one knows that Stanley Russell served in the Marines in World War II, make a special effort to drop him a thank you sometime. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t mind others patting someone on the back for a job well done.

Just recently, we had the privilege of viewing the skilled pilots of the Blue Angels. These men have proved over and over again their willingness to fight the enemy on our behalf. There should be no question that each man here has put his life on the line to defend our country.
As we each ‘wowed’ as they did acrobatic tricks in the air, I began wondering how many actually thank them for serving to defend our country. I can hear a young chap shouting upon seeing one of these pilots from afar, “Hey man, that was really cool what you guys did up there!” In addition, how much harder would it have been if the fellow could have added, “Thanks for serving so that we may continue to be free?”

Do you think his message would have had impact over the crowd? I believe it would have set the tone for all who looked on. Can’t one just imagine hearing the following words – “Hey fellows, thanks for serving and defending our freedoms? You did a great job showing us your skills.”
I believe that puts everything into perspective. The fact that men and women are taking part in the military should prioritize our expressions of gratitude.

Sometimes, I think people just don’t get it when they see a group of veterans march down the street carrying their guns by their side. Usually there is a float ahead of them with occupants aboard throwing candy. People seem to be more interested in getting the paper wrapped sugar conglomerate than they are paying attention to the men behind them who fought for such privileges whereby this candy could be thrown.

That may seem small, but sometime get a piece of paper and list all the freedoms that one enjoys. There will be many. Not everybody will have the same. That is what makes one’s list so special. One will quickly come to see that the list is long of those things we all enjoy that our soldiers fought for so that we may peacefully relish pastime activities without feeling threatened by enemies who are looking to kill us and possibly our families as well.

Next time you see anyone wearing a military-issued ball cap, reach out and shake the individual’s hand and cordially state, “Thank You.” It just may mean the world to him.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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