To Veterans – In Gratitude
I did not understand the full extent of the sacrifice made by servicemen and women until I went on a Tiger Cruise. A Tiger Cruise is an opportunity for family members to join a ship as it returns from war. My son and I were able to join my oldest daughter on the USS Hue City as she returned from deployment during wartime. It was truly enlightening.
My first shock, and reality check, was when my daughter told me I was sitting above a nuclear warhead as I perched on a flat spot on the deck. There were no deck chairs – I just found a place to sit!! I could no longer pretend I was on a cruise ship!
But my true lessons were learned as I sat in what I will incorrectly call the “dining room”. I was privileged to be present during relaxed conversations amongst the men and women. They spoke of family – unseen for months – excitement and, some trepidation for the upcoming reunions. They spoke of young children left at home – some living with friends or grandparents while mom, dad, or both were out to sea.
They spoke of wives – pregnant at home – nearly due now – most of the pregnancy missed – hoping to be there for the birth. Misty eyed, they spoke of babies born whom they would be meeting for the first time.
They were not speaking with bitterness or resentment. They were fully committed to their service – knew for what they were signing up. But, for those whose first deployment it was – they did not know how tough it would be. They spoke of the priority list for disembarking. The order of departing the boat had a specific protocol – I believe the first one off was to be a dad meeting his infant daughter for the first time.
We spent the night on the ship. The gentle rocking of the waves lulled me to sleep in the bunk my daughter had given up for me. I could not believe how well I slept, although, in part, I am sure it was due to being with my daughter returning safely home from war. The peaceful slumber was abruptly disturbed at early hour as helicopters departed the ship from a deck just above my sleeping quarters – again a stark reminder this was not a leisure ship!
As we pulled into Jacksonville, the emotional greeting for the ship was beyond my expectation. A hometown band played for the returning service men and woman. Families were gathered – waving, calling, and holding signs of greeting. Ship’s horns were blowing.
This fanfare contrasted to the solemn departure many months prior when the great grey ship was silently tugged away from the pier – sailors lining each deck standing tall with somber countenance, hands at their backs motionless as families waved while wiping tears.
Now the tears were of joy! My daughter was on duty, so we were very high up on the ship – port not far from starboard. The scene on the pier off the starboard side was so overwhelming; I walked to port side of the ship to get a breath of open sea air – a break from the intensity of emotion.
What greeted me as I approached the port side remains engraved upon my memory. Three dolphins were beside the ship escorting these courageous, patriotic, selfless, loyal men and women back home. It was the ultimate tribute!
I thank you veterans all. I am not sure those of us who have not served can ever truly appreciate your sacrifice. But this veteran’s mom had a tiny glimpse and will be forever grateful!
Happy Veteran’s Day!