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To all U.S. veterans, Thank you

November 11, 2011

This sign is part of the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC.

To U.S. veterans and the men and woman currently serving our country home and abroad:

Thank you from the bottom of my beating American heart.

Over the years I have done plenty of civic and charitable deeds, starting with Girl Scouts, but I have never served our country in the military.

I will never know what it is like to live in the desert for a month with sand infused into every pore of my body. My head has never been shaved. I won’t carry a 100-pound backpack. I don’t expect someone will ever purposefully shoot at me in the dark. Neither will I go months at a time without one single letter from home. I haven’t eaten Spam in 40 years. Neither will I know what it’s like to fly missions in the Air Force when I launch into bursts of energy over a target and then battle the adrenaline rush of dodging enemy flak for hours afterward. The only foxhole I ever saw was in the woods.

I have feared for my life, but it is not the same.

I’ve never stepped off a Navy ship or a cargo plane and kissed the ground I walk on.  Maybe I should.  Maybe I should attend a few more Welcome Home celebrations. Maybe then I will understand a little more when a veteran says, “You just won’t understand what it was like. You weren’t there.”

I think of you when I see the American flag slowly shifting in the breeze.

I cry when I hear Taps, thinking of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

You remind me of your work when I vote, when I travel freely, when I learn, and every moment that I feel safe.

This Veterans Day is your Thank You Day and I will never take it for granted.

I remember when my brother Brian came home from serving in the Army in 1974.  He was among the last group drafted for Vietnam and, luckily for me, he never shipped out. He sat in an upright chair in our dining room, shoulders square, wearing his green Army fatigues and calmly and respectfully talked to my mother and his younger siblings about what serving the military was like. He seemed so calm to me. So serious. It was the first time I remember someone acting mature. It impressed me that in getting back to civilian life he was suddenly taking on new responsibilities around the house.  My big brother. I was about 10 years old.

When my nephew returned from Iraq it I cut work with my boss’ permission, borrowed a sign from the New Jersey Builders Association that said “God Bless America. Our Home Sweet Home” to hang across his street and lined the neighborhood with American flags.

Ben’s smile looked like a Christmas tree when he pulled up to the curb with his friend Andrew from Basic Training and saw the sign.  I felt lucky to see him return, thankful to the core. One of the most prideful moments I have ever had as an aunt happened that day.  I have rolls of film to document it.

My nephew asked me to take a picture of his boots, because he walked into Iraq in them and walked out of Iraq in them. I listened in awe as he and Andrew rolled around in the grassy front lawn and talked about all the things they appreciate about coming home.

That day I learned something: Having a safe and healthy place to live means much more when you have fought and sacrificed everything to protect it.

God bless you. God bless America.


Mary V Danielsen


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