Albany justifiably prides itself in our annual tribute to veterans for their service to our country. Our parade is amazing and, perhaps even more remarkable is the response from citizens who line our streets to pay homage to military veterans. I have been in the parade on a number of occasions, and I’m always impressed that so many people are willing to take a little time to express their gratitude to their fellow citizens. We should probably find more reasons and ways to do that.
I have always felt a little guilty about my military service because most of my enlistment was spent behind a desk in Norfolk, Virginia, at the headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic. I did spend some time at sea on a Canadian destroyer, but I’ve done many more dangerous assignments as a civilian than I ever did as a Navy journalist. I really didn’t sacrifice much to serve in the military in comparison to my father who served in combat in two wars or his Canadian cousin who was killed in Holland during World War II.
My mother spent the war years in the U.S. Army at the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, which I suspect was something of an adventure for a young woman from coal country in Kentucky. Like me, I don’t believe my mom was ever in any physical danger during the War, and I never heard her even hint that her service represented a sacrifice. Perhaps we deserve some credit for accepting the obligation to go where we were sent, but I’ve never felt comfortable accepting praise for a four-year commitment that provided substantial benefits with little or no risk.
I have no similar hesitation when it comes to recognizing the many men and women who have made tremendous sacrifices on behalf of the rest of us. I met many of them in Iraq who risked their lives every day trying to carry out difficult missions in a dangerous and frustrating environment. Most of those I met accepted their separation from families and basic amenities with a good attitude and a commitment to make a difference. I have met more young friends since moving to Albany who served two or three deployments in Afghanistan or Iraq and have now settled into productive community roles. The lucky ones, like my father, emerged from their experience as strong, capable people who find it easy to keep daily challenges in perspective. Less fortunate veterans struggle with the many negative effects of war. The programs and services we offer to veterans are probably not enough to compensate for their experience.
Our parade is part of the civic infrastructure that makes Albany a strong community. I am grateful to all those who make it possible and grateful to all who have sacrificed in many different ways to make their community and country a better place.