Germany. Vietnam. Afghanistan. Korea.

These and other far-off countries don’t begin to cover the places many of our neighbors have shipped off to as members of this country’s armed forces.

My dad was too young to suit up for World War II, but immediately after the conflict he spent time in Germany as a military policeman.

My father-in-law was a WWII lieutenant, serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps first in England and later the Philippines. A couple of empty shell casings from those islands sit prominently in our living room as reminders of his duty. He was recalled when the Korean War broke out but had been on the receiving end of a head-on auto collision in East Texas just prior to receiving his invitation. The family informed the army that his leg had been crushed; the army invited him to show up for a physical anyway. When they saw his body cast, he was dismissed.

He died in 1996, and my mother-in-law passed along the flag draping his coffin to their grandson after that young man’s Marine Corps tenure.

My military action ended before it began: My draft number when graduating from college was high enough that I wasn’t drafted. I stayed home and let others do the job.

No doubt the real picture is: “You had to be there.” Even so, most of us are glad we weren’t.
Our cover story this month honors those neighbors, men and women, who answered the government’s call or simply raised their hands and volunteered. Truth be told, the story offers only a glimpse of their experiences as medics, bombers, intelligence officers and the like.

No doubt the real picture is: “You had to be there.” Even so, most of us are glad we weren’t.

The day-to-day reality of military life is unimaginable for those of us who went about our business unaware. Watching the Dallas Cowboys, kicking back at movies, zoning out on video games, sleeping safely at night: The selflessness of a few neighbors makes these things possible for the rest of us.

They served for our benefit without knowing us, just as we don’t know most of them or their stories. They just went quietly about their business, and then they came home. No fuss. Not enough fanfare.

Their stories remind me of grizzled warrior Jack Nicholson’s snapback to military desk jockey Tom Cruise in the movie “A Few Good Men”: “You have the luxury of not knowing what I know.”

What I know is how grateful I am to the people I walk by, drive past and live next to who made the life I lead possible.

If you have served, are serving or know a service person on duty now, a few words of thanks ring pretty hollow compared to the debt we owe you.

All the same, though: Thank you.

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