A few of my personal veterans

Thanks, Dad.  Thank you for ferrying those air-sea rescue birds back from Da Nang, for rescuing that family in Alaska, and for letting me wear your retired F86 helmet — that rubber-faced sorting hat of dreams — when I was four years old.

Dad's old girlfriend (photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Thank you, Paul, my other dad.  Thank you for exemplifying quiet professionalism, not only as a team shooter in the Guard but as an engineer, husband, adventure rider and father.

Thank you to Mike and Mike, two dinged-up Marines who saddled up again in your 40s and showed a few young army doggies how a soldier drives on when he’s a man…

(photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

…and to Mike, who personally ensured that the denizens of Subic Bay will never forget America, even as we forget them.

Thank you, Tom-bo. You’ve had my back for… my G-D, is it decades now?

Thank you, Jessy, for putting up with the grab-ass bullshit of young jarheads, and patiently reminding them to fix the damned aircraft first because everything else comes after the mission is complete (also for rockin’ your cover like a sportsmodel).

Thank you, Keith. You were the best company grade officer who ever personified “the cavalry is coming,” and the most dialed-in history instructor ever to serve at the Point.

Scouts out! (photo copyright Jack Lewis 2005)

Thank you, Melissa, for being as authentically tough and durable as the rest of us hoped we were — and for coming back alive, anyway.

K.C., why they never hit you is beyond me, but I guess if NASA could miss Jupiter, anything is possible. I pity the Alaskan bear that mistakes you for her date.

And Sharon, rare proof that brains neither preclude strong principles, nor the other way around: you’re setting an example that more of we Americans should follow.

Just warming up... (photo copyright Jon Nelson 1984)

Terry and Jon, thanks for dragging me back from downrange all those years ago after we learned (surely not for the first time) not to mix Korean beer with jungle juice.

Mac, thank you for keeping me alert and honest with your precisely calibrated, hair trigger bullshit detector (and its loud, angry alarm).

Parker, thank you for getting tougher and smarter every day, while the rest of us corrode slowly in our epsom salt baths. May the Air Force bestow at least a dozen more brightly colored ribbons on you.

Thank you, Brendan, for staying until the last dog is hung.

Thanks to Jeffrey, for consistently being readier than your unit. Privates who lead like you do won’t stay privates for long.

Z, there’s no way to thank you enough. The checks we’ve drafted on your family’s account are a national debt that can never be repaid, and “thank you” is all we’ve got.

Thank you, Chris and Josh, for looking out for each other — and for me.

Last cop standing (photo copyright Jack Lewis 2005)

Swears he wasn't sleeping... (photo copyright Jack Lewis 2005)

You guys are the best.



I’ll close this with a few, famous words from a Marine veteran of WWII who went on to become a Catholic priest and missionary, because people, he was better at saying this than I’ll ever be:

Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a Jagged scar, a certain look in the eye.

Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, A piece of shrapnel in the leg or perhaps another sort of inner steel: The soul’s ally forged in the refinery of adversity.

Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe Wear no badge or emblem. You can’t tell a vet just by looking.

What is a vet?

He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn’t run out of fuel.

He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.

She or he is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Danang.

He is the POW who went away one person and came back another or didn’t come back AT ALL.

He is the Quantico drill instructor who has never seen combat but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other’s backs.

He is the parade riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor remains unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean’s sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket, aggravatingly slow, who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.

He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

He is a Soldier, Marine, Sailor or Airman, and also a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.

So remember each time you see someone who has served our country. When you see one just lean over and say, “Thank You.”

That’s all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.

Two little words that mean a lot, “THANK YOU.”

–Father Dennis Edward O’Brien


  1. Stone was by yesterday. He had some local business and stopped in for a few hours to visit. We were cold war sailors. We didn’t shoot at anybody. Nobody shot at us.

    Yet, on more than on occasion we held the other’s life in our hands. A major screw-up and I could easily have killed him, or the other way around, he me.

    We never speak of that. We talk about humorous events we recall. We speak of our present lives. We gossip…

    There’s a bond created when an individual puts their life in the hands of another. “I trust you with my life. Here, it’s yours. I know it’s safe.” But we don’t speak of it.

    If you’d have been an obvserver, on my back porch last evening, you might have recognized that there was something… something between us that you couldn’t quite put your finger on.

    Some say I’ve potential as a writer. I must take this opportunity to argue. If I were worth a damn I’d be able to expound upon that bond I’ve mentioned.

    I can’t.

    I’m not worthy of a “Thanks!” on veterans’ day, either. I received so much more than I gave.

    Cap’n Drift (USS America CV-66 (RIP), ’76-’79)

  2. Tom-Bo (according to Jack) says

    I’ll admit I’m proud of my service and those with whom I have served. I quietly say, “you’re welcome” when folks thank me for my service and move out sharply, thinking how cool it is when folks recognize what you have done (or are doing).
    Then, today, armistice/veterans/remembrance day… I was in Safeway and and ran across a gentleman in a baseball cap proudly displaying his service in WWII. It was my turn. I looked at him and said, “thank you for your service, sir.” He looked back at me, nodded and moved out sharply.
    You’re welcome, Jack… and I will ALWAYS have your back, brother.

  3. Thank YOU Jack.

  4. I called today, to let you know I remembered what day it was. But I hesitated, caught up in cynicism and trying to avoid cliche, and failed to say thank you, Dad. Thank you for your service. Thank you for the lessons you learned that you have then taught me. Thank you for taking those lessons and transposing them into a larger message for others. I am proud of you, and proud of the work you do.

    • The best thing I’ve ever had anything to do with is you, Malia — and you’ll always be the truest pride of my life.

      Thank you, Daughtergirl. Don’t you dare tell anyone you made me sniffle.

  5. Jim Wallis says

    Mr. Lewis,
    Hoping and waiting for more good stuff in Motorcyclist. Please whet my appetite with more than beating on highway patrol and craigslist buyers! You are too good for that diatribe. What didn’t you like about that V-Strom in Alaska?
    Be safe,

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