This past Monday, which is my “Lyft Day”, I pulled up for my first ride in a suburban cul-de-sac in Westminster. Out the front door walked a young man dressed in US Army fatigues. He hopped in the the front door, and we began an engaging conversation. He had recently completed basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He was headed to his first deployment in Fairbanks, Alaska and he was home through Christmas. His job was to go to the Army recruitment center, and share with other young women and men about why he chose to enlist. “Why did you choose to join the military”? I enquired. He gave me a very thoughtful and complete answer. “Nobody in my family, that I know of, ever served in the military. I felt I owed it to my country who has done so much for us, to represent my family. Yes, there is also the fact that I will get my college paid for. I wanted the challenge to prove to myself I could measure up”.
“So how was basic training”? “Well I loved it and hated it. Looking back it was the best thing I have ever done. It has given me a sense of pride and accomplishment. I made some great friends, you have to depend on each other”. “So you are headed to Alaska in the winter time”. “Yep, no sun for three months, and minus 40 degrees . I guess I am ready, I will be there with everyone else”. This young man was quietly full of a grace and strength that came through. I said to him “Thank you for your service”. “You are welcome sir. Did you serve”? “No I did not. My father was a pilot in WWII. He flew in Europe. I never really appreciated what he did until the 50th anniversary of D-Day. I sat our living room and listened as he shared about being shot at every day. “The hard part was in the morning flight briefings, looking around and missing a few guys from the day before. I am not a hero. The heroes never came home”.
We pulled up to the recruitment station in an Arvada strip mall. As he was getting out I told him “I am proud to be with you”. “Sir, I am just a Private”. I said, “Young man you are a soldier who has committed to protect and defend me and my family – you are a gift”. “Thank you sir, that means a lot”.
Today is December 7th. It is the 78th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. My life was shaped in so many ways by the generation that lived through this huge challenge to freedom, decency, and sacrifice. Our challenges today are no less daunting. Can we tell ourselves the truth no matter what the cost, and then pay the price for facing down those forces that would steal our freedom for their own? I just read that there are three survivors from the SS Arizona, who are now 98. They were 19 once, like this young private. His youthful courage honors them and the 12 million men and women who served in WWII.
Onward and Upward Mark