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Thank you veterans

Don't forget about why we have the freedoms that we have. Photo by Kevin Kenealy

Being that it's Memorial Day, I figured it's time to offer a fitting tribute to all those who fought for our freedoms out there. No, I am not a veteran, but I have the greatest respect for those who are. I've had family and friends fight in different wars and in different capacities and through hearing their stories, I gained a new appreciation for who they are and what they did for our country.

My late grandfather on my dad's side fought in World War II, and he used to tell me about going through the streets and watching for sniper fire. He said that they would have to watch over their backs left and right for snipers in burnt out buildings.

My late grandfather on my mom's side fought in the Army in World War II. I never had the chance to meet him, but I always remember a picture of him in full uniform standing next to my grandmother. That picture makes me think of Yankee Doodle Dandy, and the years of the greatest generation.

My late family friend, Ozzy we called him, fought in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam. He had a saying, "I know when I die, I'm going to heaven because I've already been through hell." He had this saying on a jacket, which he gave to me as a teen. I more than appreciated it, but also felt like I didn't deserve it. He was insistent though, and I took it with a smile. I remember when the Buffalo Springfield song "For What it's Worth" came on the radio one day as we were sitting outside talking, he said, "This is a good song." He started singing along to it while staring off into the distance. I wonder what he was thinking about when he stared off. He used to say that he hated the Fourth of July because of the sound of the fireworks, and he told me that in the jungle he would spot tigers not far off in the distance. I wrote a poem for Ozzy that appeared in my first book, 20 Something, as seen below. We even included him in prayer at our wedding.

On the date of May 7, 2009

My friend told me he was going to die today He pulled up in his glossy red convertible Chrysler Sebring He asked me how I was doing, his hand ready for a shake I told him I wouldn't shake my hand Doctor just prescribed me with swine flu medication He shook it anyway, smiling He hinted at the end "My first car was a convertible and my last car will be a convertible."

He smoke cigarettes

People tell me, "You should quit smoking." "Why quit something I enjoy?" he said.

He always had an easy-going personality about him

But this is a greaser, a 1950s cool cat, a man made from the Vietnam war Who hates the Fourth of July because he can't stand the sound of fireworks This is the man that taught me how to bowl, first showed me how to drive This is the man who helped me get a job

This is the man who I first worked with This is the man who was and always will be my friend And this is the man who I saw go through a slim 180 lb 6' plus frame to A frame that I barely recognized, one where his belly gained three sizes, his Hair thinned and his confidence thinned as well But he was always the same to me

He told me he had cancer

And not much later, I saw him pull out of our driveway,

Waving goodbye

I looked until he drove out of my street I was hurt, sure, but was happy and at peace somehow Because if he could come before me and Admit that he was dying to me And search me out to admit this, I was happy

He seems okay with it, and that makes me happy

I won't look back on Ozzy and feel a void

I'll look back and feel happiness

For having known him

My uncle Jack, fought in the Vietnam War while stationed in Korea, and went on to marry a wonderful wife and father two wonderful children. He is now a grandfather to a wonderful little girl, and is one of the best uncles one could ask for.

My uncle Jerry served in the Marines in Vietnam. I never had the chance to meet him, but I remember a story my dad told me of when he returned from war and his normally jovial brother burst forth in tears from memories of the war.

My uncle Jim spent time in the Air Force during Vietnam and although he doesn't talk about it much, I have always respected him. He is my dad's oldest brother, and has always looked out for the family, just as he looked out for all of us during his time spent in the Air Force.

My cousin, Brian, served time all over in the military - from Korea, to Texas, learning several languages, and even teaching other members. The military has made him a strong and mature person, and one that anyone would be proud to have as a cousin.

My cousin Keilly served time playing in the band in the military, and she now takes that talent with her as an elementary school music teacher.

My childhood best friend Scott, served his time in basic training in Hawaii of all places. But he said it wasn't all paradise. He told me of how he had to endure the gas chamber as part of his training, and could barely breathe when they let him out.

My friend Lisa, served in North Carolina as an IT specialist, and the military served as a place for her to find direction in her life.

I remember taking a trip to one of the concentration camps in Germany as part of a class trip in high school. The barbed wire was still on the fence, and no one said a word the entire time we were there. All I could think of while we were there was how lucky we were to be able to come to such a place and leave. How a place like that should be turned into a tourist stop rang of freedom.

I've been to a lot of historical and military places over the years (Gettysburg, the World War I and World War II museums, the Vietnam Memorial, etc.), but that was the most significant to me.

So when two Army recruiters asked if they could speak in front of my AP Lit class this past year, I told them of course they could. I know that college is not for everyone, and that maybe the military will help someone find out who they are while they defend our country. A couple of students signed up with interest, and I was glad that I offered students other options in their post-high school careers. One of the recruiters thanked me with a handshake, a smile, and an Army mug. I felt that in a small way, I helped our country out that day. If nothing else, remember what Memorial Day is about today. Remember to thank those who served and are still serving for us.

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