In 2010 my husband had just deployed to the desert when I sat in a Veterans Day school assembly with my oldest child. Her little eight year old hand squeezed mine too tightly throughout the morning, and she would not let go until we stood to sing the National Anthem, our palms pressed hard against our hearts. I could feel my chest beating hard and like any patriot, I finally gave up trying to hold back the tears as we finished up with “and the home of the brave.” That part always makes me emotional. But this year I felt like one of the brave, too.
I felt like I should better know how to navigate the deployment. After growing up in a Navy family and then marrying a military man, honor was an ingrained principal. I knew how to fold a flag, what to do when taps or revile played, and the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. But it wasn’t just the traditions that I knew. I also knew about the real lives of real families that had been touched by the war. It was that knowledge that kept me lost at times, even when I thought I should know the way.
We closed our eyes in prayer. Silently, my daughter squeezed my hand three times, our family symbol for “I love you,” and I squeezed back four times: I love you, too. When I opened my eyes, she was squeezing her other hand in mid-air, sending her love deep into a desert she’d never seen. We were all finding our own ways through this deployment. I squeezed back again for my husband, “I love you, too.”
We didn’t do much that year to say thank you to our local Veterans, but as the family of a servicemember who safely returned home the following year, we’ve talked often about the things that all of us can do to say thank you to our Veterans. Our family created a new tradition of setting a White Table of Remembrance in the foyer and leaving it up through Thanksgiving and Christmas, giving us an opportunity to share the military symbolism with our friends.
However this year, our family will be adding a new tradition for Veterans Day. This year, we will be donating to the ModestNeeds.Org Homecoming Heroes Grant, an opportunity to give back to the Veterans who have served in overseas combat and returned to face emergencies while waiting for their V.A. benefits to be processed. The Homecoming Heroes Grant was created in 2012 when ModestNeeds.org noticed that returning combat Veterans who were waiting for V.A. benefits found themselves in emergent financial situations. The organization funds modest needs that help boost families out of the cycle of poverty and into a self-sustaining life.
Please join me in saying thank you to all our Veterans by taking the time to donate just $10 or $15 to this project before you head out for your holiday weekend. This is our community, and it’s such an easy way to say thank you.
Lori Volkman is a military spouse, award-winning writer, and CEO of Trajectory Communications. Her works have been published in Reader’s Digest and the New York Times at War, and she has appeared as a military family expert on CNN, NBC, and the CBS News. She lives with her two children and her now returned husband in the Pacific Northwest.
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