By Kevin McNulty
It’s Veterans Day, a day set aside for the express purpose of remembering the sacrifices made by the brave and selfless men and women who put their lives in harm’s way so that the world may continue to have the peace, freedom and liberty that is only found when someone is willing to stand up to the world’s bullies and say “Forbear!”
I am talking about those who wore the stars and stripes on their shoulder, and marched into service in some far-off land where their uniform may make them a target—the servicemen and servicewomen of the United States of America.
This time of year some of us stop and rest and reflect on those people, the celebrated and the unknown, by whose actions we remain still the bright beacon of hope that has drawn so many millions of the world’s downtrodden and persecuted out of the darkness and into the wonderful light.
Many modern Americans flee the mundane, armed with cooler or tent, swinging by the store for provisions on their way to The Great Escape. Burdened with chips, drinks, and 28 pounds of ice, we pilot our cart-full-o-loot out the doors of the local grocery toward the truck, thinking only of getting on the road.
We whizz right on by the solitary old Gipper sitting quietly behind the small colorful table. “Oh, yeah!” we say to ourselves,”it’s Veterans Day weekend!” We pilot our nummies carefully past the table, nodding, smiling as we go by. We’re in a hurry. Gotta get that campsite, gotta get that spot, be the first on the trail. No time to talk. Thanks for the Poppy. Oh, here, have a buck. Have a nice day.
We may never give another thought to the person behind the table, but to them and their fellows we owe so much.
These often wizened oldsters usually sport a vest or a hat of some kind adorned with pins , badges, or patches—icons of their past service to our nation, and to the ideals that it represents. Each patch or pin a touchstone of great importance. Mention one, and you’ve hit the “play” button on amazing and unique stories and memories recorded in the veterans’ memory. Stories of heroism, victory, achievement. Of curiosities, humor, fun times, and camaraderie. Stories of sadness, loss, pain, and despair. Life’s memories from one who may have seen things that you or I cannot even imagine.
The men and women are passing out “Buddy Poppies,” handmade replicas of those famous little red flowers that grew in profusion in the fields of Europe where so much horror and death took place long ago.
Buddy Poppies are now symbols of the men and women who gave their lives, and of the beauty that persevered in the world because of their sacrifice.
I keep one on my rear-view mirror, so that it is never far from my thoughts. Who. How. What.
The poppies themselves are made by hand by disabled vets, living in rehabilitation hospitals. Buy one! Each dollar dropped into the can on the table goes toward keeping those places open and working, or toward helping the children of disabled veterans. Giving purpose to their lives. Giving back some of the hope we have reaped by their selflessness.
I like to imagine the hands that made the poppies.
Some hands are strong, swift, and sure. Some are thin, almost brittle. Shakey. Slow, deliberate. Some hands are healthy and whole. Others are missing fingers, or are twisted by some awful infliction.
Some hands are guided by healthy eyes, with perfect vision. Others, by eyes that no longer see outward things.
The minds that control the hands may be sharp. Precise. Moving the hands in efficient rhythms that produce hundreds of poppies a day.
Or the mind may be dulled from sickness, pain, or relentless age, Drifting in and out of lucidity. Thoughts interrupted by meandering trails to long-ago memories, or the sweet slumber of a summer afternoon. These hands may make only a few, imperfect poppies each day.
Those hands that assemble the poppies are the same hands that once pulled the pin, the trigger, and the roll of gauze. That held the shovel, the shell, and the hand of one stricken. The same hands passed the ammo can, the canteen, and the blanket.
Those hands gripped and held and wrested back from evil the freedoms that we take advantage of every day in this free world.
The hands of those old Gippers, and the young ones too, fought, and endured, and persevered for us, that we might still have the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, those things that they thought valuable enough to fight and maybe die a horrible and gruesome death for so that throughout this land and the whole world the sound of freedom will ring out loud and clear, to gird up the good and drown out the voice of evil forevermore.
The freedom to go where we like, and do what we wish, and the preservation of the beautiful land where we live, and love, and recreate.
So as you go by the little table on your way to the rest of your lives, take a moment to thank the owner of those hands.
Have a happy, safe, and blessed Veteran’s Day.
Kevin McNulty is a Ramona resident.