Thumbing through some saved photographs on my iPad this weekend, I stumbled across one of my favorite pictures of my daddy, one I posted of him on Veterans Day some years back.
Staring at me from that worn color photograph is a smiling 20-year-old, standing tall and proud in his Air Force uniform. He was stationed in Missouri at the time, awaiting his honorable discharge so he could head home to Sampson, farm life, his wife and the new baby girl that was me.
I’ve looked at that photograph thousands of times over the years. As a child, I’d always climb on his lap, framed photo in hand, and beg, “tell me again daddy about your days in the service.” He’d smile and oblige, regaling me with stories of his time in the Air Force, always ending with his gentle but firm admonishment that I should love my country and be thankful for those who served it.
“We owe our freedom to them,” he’d say, “and we should never, ever forget.”
My mom would always echo his sentiments with those of her own, praising veterans and always ensuring that I offered due respect to those who served our country so selflessly. Not only did she take pride in my father’s military stint, her years helping Ann Knowles at the Veterans Office in Sampson only accentuated her respect and gratitude for our service men and women, something she instilled in me as I grew from child to teenager.
She served as a guardian of sorts for one such veteran in Autryville, Mr. Oliver, and I was privileged to spend time with him, his stories added to those my dad told only deepening my own convictions toward our veterans.
Like my dad, he’d say, “Never forget what our soldiers have done for this country through time, Sherry. Without those who wear the uniform, where would we be? So never, ever forget.”
I never did. In fact, every time I hear the National Anthem, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, watch veterans recognized at church or within the community, see a uniform-clad soldier or catch an American flag blowing in the breeze, my stomach gets that roller-coaster dipping feeling and my eyes well with tears. Pride swells within me and a sense of gratitude washes over me like the high tide pulling sand from a beach. And I remember, first my daddy, standing so proud and tall, and then others who have served our country, men and women who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms we all cherish and, yes, often take for granted.
My daddy died one day before Veterans Day in 2002, a devastating blow to the little girl inside me who idolized him. But somehow then, and right on through today, when Nov. 11 rolls around, it’s not sadness I feel, but rather pride, as I recall that smiling 20-year-old in his uniform and hear that soft, husky voice reminding me to be thankful. And I am — thankful for this country I love, for every single veteran and for parents who instilled that love for both within me.
Reach publisher and editor Sherry Matthews at 910-249-4612. Follow her on Twitter @sieditor1960; follow the paper @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.