Excerpt from Transplanted Yankee: Lest All My Balderdash Be Forgotten.
I ran into someone one day who thanked me for my service in the military. She called me a hero and said our country needed to take better care of us veterans. This was slightly embarrassing. I didn’t know what to say. I spent some time putting my words together to express my thoughts on the matter. I hope I don’t offend anyone with this, but it is truly how I feel.
I am a veteran. I am also known as an American Fighting Man and sometimes a hero, though I consider myself neither of these. I did not fight the enemy nor did I do anything heroic. I was an electrician aboard a ship that was constantly breaking down. There was nothing heroic about putting her back together.
I chose to serve my country, not out of patriotism or the want for labels or the VA benefits, but because after high school my Plan A fell through, and I had no Plan B. There was a streak of patriotism there, though it was naïve and undeveloped. What I knew of patriotism was learned in school, on TV, and from what my family related to me from their stints in the service.
I’m taking the liberty of speaking on behalf of my fellow service members when I say we expected nothing when our tours were completed; we tried to do our time with honor and ended up growing to be men and women. Although I am proud of this service to my country, I never expected to be honored or hailed as a hero on my return to civilian life; indeed, these accolades embarrass me when they find me. I’m sure the rest feel the same way.
We asked nothing from our country that we were not willing to give her in return. The majority of us were nothing more than wellsprings of trusting selflessness. What that level of selflessness would have risen to in me, I don’t know. I like to think I would have laid down my life for her, but, thankfully, God blessed me by not requiring me to make that decision. How does a country lay down its life for an individual anyway? It can’t. Perhaps that is why some people feel we are heroes-we knew someday that decision might have to be made, but we chose to serve anyway, knowing we would receive nothing in return.
Just know we were no different than you. We still had our hopes and fears, just like the school teacher who gets up every morning and beats a path to the coffee pot or the trash collector who spends his mornings in the freezing rain picking up your garbage. We received a paycheck and paid taxes, we had bosses who were pains in the ass, we hated to get up and go to work, and we watched the clock, waiting on quitting time-just like you did. We did not think of ourselves as heroes. We had a job to do and we just did it. In reality, the only difference between us is we chose to get closer to the action when we were young, invincible, and naïve.