Robert VanDerslice, like millions of people, found himself one morning waiting on a seat in a crowded airport for his boarding call. While looking around though the crowd, he saw a rather unusual sight. There was an elderly man sitting across from him, facing a large picture window that gave passengers a view of the runway. Robert notes that the eyes of the man reflected a life of hardship, and as he looked at the man, he noticed tears streaming down from his eyes. Wanting to do something, Robert walked over to him and asked if he could join him, asking the man if he was alright.
There was silence at first, and then the man asked “did you stand when She walked by?” Confused by the question, Robert said he didn’t understand. He then looked at him in his eyes, and asked again, “did you stand when She walked by?” Still confused, Robert told him that he didn’t understand, and asked the man if he stood when she walked by, with no clue as to who “she” could be. At this point, the elderly man turned and looked out the window to the tarmac. It seemed that the conversation was over.
Robert began to walk away, but was still troubled by the question. He boarded his plane, and found his seat as the plane began to clear the gate. He then looked back at the terminal that he had left, where he saw the man sitting alone facing the tarmac. He was still alone, and Robert saw that several others walked up to him, but left confused, shaking their heads, or just leaving quickly. And yet the man continued to stare out the window. It was then that Robert was able to see what the man was staring at.
About 300 yards away was a plane surrounded by military personnel. Watching from his plane, he saw a small procession of six men carrying a flag draped coffin away from the plane to a waiting hearse, where they stood after the rear door of the black car had been closed and they offered a salute as the car drove slowly away. He looked back to the window of the terminal, where the man was sitting still, offering a salute but not standing, for he was confined to a wheel chair.
The plane hadn’t completely left the gate yet, and Robert was able to get off the plane has it had a rolling stair gantry for passenger access. He walked quickly and headed for the terminal, back to the elderly man. He walked up next to him, and faced the plane as another coffin draped with the flag was placed in a waiting hearse, and this time he raised his hand in salute, allowing his hand to drop only when the hearse rolled out of view around a security fence.
The elderly man once again looked at Robert, visibly moved. He said in a quivering voice, “Thank you sir…for what you did. My greatest wish these days is to stand again for her, but I can’t. I gave my legs in ’43 and my oldest son in ’67 to that Lady, so she could keep walking. It hurts when no one cares that she walks by.”
Robert ended up missing that flight, but writes “my heart and soul found wings to the heavens on the words of a 90-year old man who dared to share a heart full of memories with me and dared to remind me why Old Glory still waves as the beacon of hope in a lost world.”
This Saturday, our nation celebrates Veteran’s Day. I’ve been honored to know so many of these unsung heroes, and I am thankful to them every day for preserving the liberties that I enjoy as an American. It’s so important though that we never take them, or our country, for granted.
With that in mind, I’d like to share a list that is posted on the website of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. It was developed by the Behavioral Health staff at the Spokane VA Medical Center. These are simple things we can do all year, and not just on November 11th. To those of you who have served so that I can have the freedom to pray, to write this column, and to live in this amazing land, thank you!
- Attend a Veteran’s Day event.
- Ask a Veteran about their time in the military, and really listen to the answer.
- Hang a flag in your yard.
- Ask an aging Veteran to share with you the song that most takes them back.
- Visit the gravesite of a Veteran.
- Visit a homebound Veteran in their home, talk with them, and thank them for their service.
- Visit a homeless Veteran under a bridge, and do the same.
- Take a Veteran out to dinner.
- Take dinner in to a Veteran.
- Tell someone (your family, a friend, a neighbor) about an experience you had serving a Veteran at the VA.
- Take flowers to a Veterans memorial.
- Write and send a letter to someone who’s currently serving in the military .
- Ask a neighbor about their deployment.
- Call a Veteran family member.
- Thank a Veteran co-worker for their service.
- Take a private moment to be proud of your country.
- Teach someone (a child, a friend, a neighbor) what it means to be a Veteran.
- Share pictures of a Veteran with someone.
- Say a silent prayer for those who are serving.
- Learn about a current or past war/conflict (this will make you a better helper).
- Look up your ancestry and learn about someone in your family who was a Veteran.
- Hug your family, and tell them that it’s thanks to Veterans that you get to.
- Observe a moment of silence with family and friends.
- Read something a Veteran wrote about their experience.
- Wear your favorite “Pro-Vet” T-Shirt. (Examples: Free Hugs for Vets; Remember Our Fallen Veterans; Freedom is not FREE…; Thank a VETERAN; I Heart Veterans!).
- Buy a Buddy Poppy. Wear it all day, attach it to your purse or bag and keep it there until it falls apart. When people ask what it is, tell them.
- Read and share the poem “In Flanders Field the poppies grow”.
- Make sure your children and grandchildren know who the Veterans are within their own family, and share the family stories with them.
- Do a project about Veterans with young children or grandchildren. For example, let them make their own Veteran flag and plant it in a pot of flowers in front of the house.
- Write on your blog about your appreciation for Veterans.
- Help young children or grandchildren make a thank you card, and post them in the window or at a grocery store bulletin board or library or some other public place.
- (Good for any day:) Stand out in front of the VA greet Veterans as they are being dropped off at the door. Some older folks even need a hand getting out of the car.
- Tell a loved one why you enjoy serving Veterans.
- 34. Buy a homeless Veteran a cup of coffee.
- Donate time or money or supplies to local Veterans Day drives.
- Volunteer to help a Veteran’s Service Organization (there are lots!).
- Take a moment to reflect on what it means to live in America.
- Gather with friends and family and watch a patriotic movie.
- Go to a Veterans Day parade.
- Write in your journal how thankful you are for the service of Veterans.
- Take a quiet moment and imagine hearing “taps” played in your head. Think about what it means.
- Thank a Veteran of his/her service while doing errands.
- Shake a Veteran’s hand.
- Send an email that tells a Veteran’s story to the people on your contact list.
- Pick one or two of the activities listed above, and resolve to do them at least one time every month this year when it’s NOT Veteran’s Day.