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Veterans Day Lessons From My Dad

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My father was a proud American who was drafted into the United States Army during the Vietnam War, although he never left American soil. He spent much of his time stationed in Oklahoma, and from what I’m told he was one heck of a sharp shooter. He also had his very first McDonald’s hamburger while stationed in Oklahoma for 15 cents.

When I close my eyes tight I remember being a 5-year-old little girl hanging onto every word my dad spoke. He was my real life superhero. My dad’s dog tags proudly hung on a hook inside my parent’s bedroom. Those cold aluminum discs represented a time when my very young father selflessly served his country. I remember holding my father’s dog tags in my hands and running my fingers across his name. Even as a naive 5-year-old, I knew the power those little aluminum discs held. Each time I held them my dad would smile and patiently explain the importance of dog tags and what they stood for. Chills would run down my spine when my father would tell me how so many of his friends never returned home from the war and these dog tags were all some families had. I remember watching tears build up in the corners of his eyes as he spoke of the ultimate sacrifice many of his young friends made.

on left, soldier, on right grave
Dad, U.S. Army 1967

A military burial was something my dad wanted and reminded me of throughout his life. “When I die, call the Army! Please don’t forget, call the Army, Lisa!” I would roll my eyes and say, “You’re not allowed to die!”

When my dad died this past January he received a full military burial, complete with the United States Army playing “Taps.” Through endless tears, I watched two soldiers meticulously fold our flag into the symbolic tri-cornered shape. They thanked my mother for my father’s honorable and faithful service. They saluted my father’s casket. It was the proudest moment in my life but also the most gut-wrenching, saddest moment in my life.

This Veterans Day as I sit and reflect on what an incredible man my father was, I’m compelled to point out the valuable lessons he brought back from his Army days and instilled in his family.

He taught me the importance of family and respect. He taught me there is no shame in losing, that you will succeed if you persevere, and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles.

He taught me I am free because of the sacrifices of others, that freedom isn’t free.

He taught me the definition of a hero is a regular person doing extraordinary things without thought for gain; a hero is a person facing terrifying and uncertain situations with courage and calm.

He taught me that soldiers are heroes and to always thank a veteran.

My father was and will always be my hero, so to him, Happy Veterans Day, Daddy. And to all of the other veterans who are someone’s hero, both at home and abroad, Happy Veterans Day, and thank you for your service.

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Originally published: November 11, 2016
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