Of all places, I was in the veterinarian’s office with our dog Moby when I started feeling differently about veterans.
It wasn’t the smell of disinfectant or the dog yapping in the next room that got my wheels spinning. It was the sight of my shiny, new DOD identification card. I was digging it out of my wallet to take advantage of the vet’s 15 percent military discount when I remembered it was Nov. 1, my husband’s first day as a separated military retiree.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot,” I said sheepishly to the office assistant. “My husband just retired from active duty.”
“It’s OK,” he responded. “Your husband’s a veteran, right? You’re still good.”
He scribbled a lower total on my invoice. I paid the bill, tugged Moby’s leash and rushed to our minivan. My wheels pealed out of the parking lot, and as I sped down Route 138, I felt like I’d just gotten away with something.
I took another look at my new ID card. It clearly indicated I was now merely a dependent of a sponsor who is “USN/RET.” We had officially become civilians. Although Francis is a “veteran,” we didn’t feel entitled to special treatment anymore.
Approaching a red light, I glanced over at the driver in the Honda Pilot coasting to a stop beside me. She was wearing huge sunglasses and holding a fancy water bottle. A stick-figure decal on her back window indicated she had a husband, two kids and a cat. A bumper sticker read, “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington.”
In a melancholy state, I declared, “I guess that’s who I am now; just another civilian.”
On the opposite corner, a bank marquis flashed 10:32 a.m., 61 degrees, and “Honor All U.S. Veterans.”
I remembered Veterans Day 2015 when Francis, then active duty, spoke at a city hall gathering off base. I was so proud of him as he talked about the sacrifices of veterans who had come to commemorate that special day. We lingered after his speech and listened to the stories they told; their brave service in Vietnam, WWII and the Korean War. They were the real McCoys – true military veterans.
But the bank sign read, “honor all veterans.” I wondered, those guys in the wars or everyone who served?
I’d heard the statistics. Less than one half of 1 percent of the U.S. population today volunteers for military service – the lowest rate since WWII. Of those select few, roughly 80 percent come from a family in which a parent or sibling served. Our recent wars have been authorized by a Congress with the lowest rate of military service in history, and the last three commanders-in-chief never served on active duty.
I realized those few who volunteer to serve their country most definitely deserve recognition.
A car horn prompted me to quit daydreaming because the light had turned green.
Later that day, I was back in the minivan running errands with Francis. As we approached the Navy base, he pulled out his shiny new ID card, looked at it uncomfortably and handed it to the gate guard.
Much to our surprise, the guard saluted and said, “Good afternoon, captain.”
“Wow,” Francis said as we drove away, “I didn’t realize they still did that after you retire.”
“You’re a veteran, honey,” I reminded him. “You’ve earned it.”