In second grade, my father returned from deployment and my class made a huge sign to welcome him home. Every student got to color in their own letter on the sign so it was quite colorful (and most certainly done by second graders!)
The sign was hung on the neighborhood circle so as soon as we drove home he would see it. Dressed in our matching navy and white outfits, my sister and I got to run up to our smiling dad and had the kind of picture perfect homecoming moment news outlets love to show.
This is my first real memory of being a military kid.
From that point on, I felt nothing but pride when someone asked me what my dad did and I was able to say he was a Sailor. He was in the Navy. So many memories of my childhood revolve around his service.
I can remember being warned the night before he was to put his anchors on as Chief so we wouldn’t be scared by anything that happened. The next day we watched as my mom and grandfather pinned him.
In middle school, I had the amazing opportunity to go on a Tiger Cruise. At 12 years old, I boarded a plane from Norfolk to Bermuda by myself–no adult supervision. From there I had to get on a bus at the airport that took us to a liberty boat that would ferry us to the carrier. What an adventure for a seventh grader!
I learned my way around the ship so that if I ever found myself alone, I could get back to the Chief’s Mess, dad’s office, my berthing and the smoke pit where I’d find my dad. I was decked out in flight deck jerseys of different colors each day as I got to see F-14’s launch off the flight deck. I manned the rails when the ship came back into Norfolk on a freezing cold December day right in time for the holidays. It gave me a much clearer picture of what my dad did and my pride in him only continued to grow as I got older.
By high school there was no doubt my father was my hero. He was the one person I looked up to and wanted to make sure I could make him as proud of me as I was of him.
He had followed his father’s footsteps into the Navy, enlisting at 17 so he still needed my grandmother to sign his paperwork. He had a twenty-six year Navy career and retired only because he had to retire. I think if they had let him stay— he would have served forever.
Knowing how much I looked up to him, I don’t know why it surprised him so much that I wanted lace up the boots and follow in his footsteps. While I certainly took my time enlisting, going the traditional route of college after high school, I still felt drawn to serve. I wanted to carry on the family tradition. I know when he had daughters and no sons he didn’t expect to see one of his children graduate boot camp.
But he did, and it was one of my proudest moments. Seeing my father in Chicago on graduation day, being able to say I was doing what he had done—nothing could compare to that.
Growing up a military brat I have always thought Veterans Day was about more than the sales going on in the shopping malls. It was always a day to reflect on the service of the family members.
And now it’s a day that means even more to me being married to a Marine and serving in the Navy myself.
It’s a day to be proud of all of those who have served, who continue to serve and who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.