Most of us, the lucky ones, think of being veterans the way you’d recall getting a college degree or landing that first big job.
We served our country, it said thanks, life moved on.
Maybe we have friends from our time in the military, or learned a skill that’s helped along the way. Maybe we met a spouse during those years in uniform.
(I only realized as I typed that previous paragraph that all three of those examples actually do apply to me — and the fact that I hadn’t thought of it is kind of the point.)
For those who haven’t been injured, or come home with psychological scars inflicted in wartime, or watched a buddy torn apart by a roadside bomb, it’s…different.
It’s heartbreaking, because we see these brothers and sisters who become casualties…and we know it could have been us.
When we wonder, we ask: Why?
For us, the lucky ones, the status of “veteran” is more of a paperwork thing.
Here in this computer age, we probably use some form of our military ID numbers as passwords for online accounts and such — because, as any vet can tell you, the number on your dogtag is the last thing you’d ever forget.
I’ve mentioned being among the lucky ones.
I suppose it’s true, because I survived a fiercely burning plane without any serious injuries, and it’s been years since my pal on the base softball team died in a training accident.
Time blurs the shock.
Most of the time, I don’t think of my years in uniform as life-defining, though on days like this when the memories return, I realize that it was a special thing, wearing a U.S. Air Force uniform.
And it changed me forever.
I just watched the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman” again the other night, and smiled at the abuse dealt out by the training sergeant played by Louis Gossett Jr.
Believe me: Been there, heard that.
The man who screamed at us back in the day was Sgt. Sam Rule from “the mighty Commonwealth of Kentucky” (his words).
Sgt. Rule once told about 25 officer candidates to look around at each other, because simple math suggested that one or two of us would die in training or combat — and that what we learned right then might decide which of us it would be.
I’ve never known if he was right about the fatalities, but it became a mantra I’ve clung to all my life — whatever you do, prepare.
Be ready. Be better.
Yes, I am most definitely one of the lucky ones, a veteran who came home in one piece both physically and emotionally.
So on this Veterans Day, my duty is to honor those who took the same oath, but were not so fortunate.
As Sgt. Rule instructed us: “Position of attention. Head and eyes, straight forward. Salute slowly and with complete respect.”
Today, I am holding that salute.
Steve Cameron is executive editor of The Mercury. Follow Steve on Twitter: @stevecameron100.