• 61°

MOORE COLUMN: Veterans Day brings back memories

I once congratulated a man for receiving a Purple Heart.

Years later, the memory still makes me cringe. The airman politely thanked me for basically congratulating him for sustaining injuries from an explosive ordinance device. That is how clueless I was about the military when I accepted a position as a military reporter in northwest Florida. It is also why I am grateful for the experience. The nearly four years I spent learning the ins and outs of the military were priceless. I left with a sense of patriotism that I only thought I possessed before it.

I literally got to meet heroes and share their stories. I interviewed former prisoners of war, survivors of Pearl Harbor and the Normandy invasion. I watched training exercises that would test the mettle of anyone.

I remember one awards ceremony I covered where a guy refused to give up his post after being shot in the chest and leg. While bleeding from his chest, nose and mouth, and facing the real possibility he would die, Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez Jr. continued to shoot at the Taliban and called in three air strikes within 20 feet of his team before allowing Army medics to re-inflate his collapsed lung. He then called in two more air strikes that saved his team.

The strongest memories I have from those times are of the families. I remember the people who trusted me with stories of anguish when they lost a beloved son or husband.

I also remember the homecomings. Families would sit patiently in hangars – sometimes for hours – and wait for their loved one’s return. None of them complained about the missed birthdays and holidays. Instead, they left Christmas trees up well into January and carried homemade signs to welcome family back into the fold.

This week, as I covered a handful of exceptional Veterans Day ceremonies, four years of heroes flooded my thoughts. And I was grateful for every one of them.

We may never see combat outside of a movie theater or truly understand the costs of freedom. We may congratulate a hero instead of thanking him. We may even numbly recite the words to the Pledge of Allegiance on occasion. But, it’s weeks like these when we can make up for all we take for granted by honoring all who have served and passing on the stories and traditions that have made this country what it is.