Veteran's Day will forever be a holiday that is near and dear to my heart. My father served in the Vietnam War, and is a noble patriot and hero to our family. Two years ago, after visiting my hometown during the holiday, I wrote a post in reflection and admiration of the beautiful way our city continues to honor our military on Veteran's Day. I hope you don't mind if I share it again with you today. If you should happen to see a veteran or person in military service, please, offer them your appreciation!
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For many people, small town life has very little appeal. Kids graduate from high-school, go on to college, and so few of them return to the place where their childhood memories were made. I am one of those people. Maybe you are, too. Yet, I would have to say, that I wouldn't change the location of my upbringing for the world.
I was reminded of how much I love small town America last weekend, when I returned home with my own family to visit my parents. Over the weekend, our boys went pheasant hunting with their dad, uncles and a few other family and friends. During their absence, my mother, sister-in-law and her two girls and Charlie and I headed to town to enjoy lunch together and to take in our town's annual Veteran's Day parade.
To an outsider, the worth of a place like Belleville might only be measured in the convenience of a place to get an ice-cream cone or use the restroom while passing through to bigger and better places. But, to those of us who have embraced small town life, there are beauties that perhaps only we can see and appreciate. That sense of appreciation was rekindled in my heart as we cruised the town square stopping to visit with folks that I hadn't seen in years. Strolling in and out of the downtown shops, everyone is happy to see you, happy you have taken a moment to patronize their store. People remember you, and care to hear your story - where you live now, and how your family has grown.
Small towns appreciate and embrace traditions in a special way. Like the tradition of celebrating Veteran's Day with a parade. Standing on the curb, holding Charlie back from the action while the entries cruised by, I couldn't help but feel a bit sentimental over all of the parades I had enjoyed in the past at the edge of that very same street.
It was a childhood joy to find a spot on the curb, to dash out into the waves of candy that rolled toward our scampering feet. Enthusiastically, we watched the floats roll by, their decorations waving in the wind. Our hearts beamed with pride as we saluted the veterans, young and old, who rolled by, seated upon those floats. They were there, not to be remembered, but to help us remember that freedom isn't free.
In my teen days the honor of marching in the band, playing with pride the songs that everyone knew, The Marine Corp Hymn, The Caissons Go Rolling Along, and Anchors Aweigh, is something I will never forget. We marched through great gusts of wind, the bitter cold even sleet and snow. No matter what the conditions were, we marched.
We played our hearts out for every Veteran who attended, who saluted the flag with pride, hearts over hands, tears rolling down wrinkled cheeks, eyes expressive of stories that none of us will ever know or even hope to understand. I played for my dad, always hoping to catch a glimpse of him somewhere along the parade route. My hometown is smaller now, the band is fewer in number, the streets aren't as crowded as in past years, but thankfully the tradition of the parade continues.
No matter how you feel about war or what your political views are, let us not forget that it is not because of our government but because of our brave and selfless men and women in uniform who have courageously served our country that you and I can speak freely, worship weekly, and sleep peacefully at night. Veteran's Day may have passed, but it's never too late to say thank you to a Veteran.