Friday, July 4, 2014

The Other Heroes

Let me tell you about my sister. She's younger by two and a half years, loves her job as a veterinary technician, and is a devoted mother to two sweet boys.

At this moment in her life, the thing that is largely defining her existence is one that she inherited through her marriage to her husband, Joe, and one that makes her both proud and scared. She is a military wife, about to bid her deployed soldier farewell.

My sister and I have a lot in common. We are busy working moms, we have similar values, we laugh at many of the same things, we are in secure, loving marriages. And we both have a sense of what it means to struggle with the schedules our husbands' jobs create for us, and the loneliness that battles with pride.

The singularly unique experience of being a military spouse is one that I can't pretend to understand, no matter how much I miss Chef Matt on our long stretches of long days. We all have our private struggles, but I believe that it takes a remarkable sort of woman to be a good military wife.

As the granddaughter of two war veterans and the daughter of an Army brat, I was raised with an understanding and respect for the sacrifices of soldiers and their families. My grandmother, at the end of her honeymoon, watched her new husband leave for Korea. When he returned, he had a son. And so continued their lives through six more children and another war. My grandfather was a patriot and a brave soldier, but so was my grandmother. The sacrifices of soldiers are tremendously important, yet without the equally important sacrifices of their families, it is difficult to keep the world of military active duty in any kind of balance.

As a historian, and a patriot myself, I feel awe and profound appreciation for the men and women that have served since Lexington and Concord. When I learn about the conditions of battlefields and Army camps and trenches and parachuting missions, I can barely believe that so many have answered their country's call. They carry with them their service and the things they have seen, far beyond their active duty. I see my brother-in-law ready to deploy, and I feel that, just as it has been since 1775, our country is in good hands.

But when we think about our soldiers, we cannot forget about those back home. The women and men on the home front kept farms and businesses going, raised children, buried family members, fought to keep from starving, and battled with the fear for their loved ones' fate. I think about the debilitating sadness of a lost husband or father, and the inestimable joy of a safe return. The families are heroes, too.

The next time you see a soldier in uniform, please thank them for their service. No matter what you might think of the military or the war, that is still a soldier who felt driven to serve and protect. But then also send up a prayer or kind thought for that soldier's family. Parents, spouses and children sacrifice and hold life together in a soldier's absence, and though I've never done it, I know that it is difficult and frustrating and unsettling. That family is waking up every morning with one thought in their mind, yet facing a million little things that need to be done. Life goes on, but for the families, it goes on with a temporarily empty chair at the table.

On this Independence Day, I am grateful for my country and its founding principles. I am grateful for our own G.I. Joe, and all the loyal soldiers in our history. And most of all, I am grateful for my sister, and all the other families who have sent their beloveds off to war. We are behind you. You are brave and your soldiers are lucky to have you in their corner.