For me, that whole part of my life seems like a million years ago....
In 1985, shortly after graduating from high school, I joined the Navy and was sent to RTC (Recruit Training Center) in Orlando. I spent my first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's away from home, in boot camp. Culture shock!
This adjustment was very tough for my mom, as her first-born left home.
(My Gran tries to comfort my Mom as they wait for boot camp graduation to begin.)
Next I was sent with orders to San Diego, California, which would become the place I learned to be a sailor, an adult, and a wife ~ with lots of hits and misses along the way.
My first assignment when I arrived was funeral duty. Yes, it was exactly as it sounds. I was part of a color guard that performed funeral services for fallen military men and women. This was profoundly challenging for me as my own father had died when I was 12 and funerals had terrified me ever since. With as much self-discipline as I could muster, I learned to direct color guard members to remove and carefully fold the draped flag , at which time I presented it to the loved one with these words:
"On behalf of the President of the United States and the Chief of Naval Operations, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to this Country and a grateful Navy."
Taps was played and the 21-gun salute took place. It was painfully somber.
Most of those we buried that year were retired men (and a few women) who had lived full lives and were now in their final resting place. But one funeral will always stand out for me: the day we laid to rest a Chief on active duty and his wife, who were in their forties and had been killed in an automobile accident. We presented the flag to their children who weren't much older than me at that time.
To this day, I can't hear taps without sobbing, and Thursday in our school district lobby was no exception. Our district superintendent reminded those attending that morning that as we "BBQ'd and beached, to stop and remember why we have this holiday ~ to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms."
My time served was only four years and safely on U.S. soil, followed by a few more years as a military spouse, an equally challenging role, but the impact of both remains with me as I reflect on the times that I prepared sadly but proudly for my (then) husband's six month deployments or waited anxiously for his return. I think of the hours I spent building parts for ships, knowing that our efforts would support our fleet and keep our men and women safe. I often think of all the men and women who have ~ and continue to ~ defend our freedoms and peace.
(Working in the SIMA Naval foundry in San Diego)
My uncles, twins, were two of those who did: James Larry Walden and Jack Garry Walden. My Uncle Larry gave his life in Vietnam while his twin returned home, forever changed. But through my mom's stories of my Uncle Larry's generous, kind, and creative spirit, I know that he wouldn't have done things any differently, knowing that what he was doing was 'the right thing.' Now it is the children of my friends who are serving. Where does the time go?
(Visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall , Washington DC, 2007)
It is with a heavy heart and deep reverence that I say
to all who have served , continue to serve , and will make the choice to serve ~ in spite of the dangers that lie before them.