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Smell the Coffee: Never too late to say thank you

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I would never write about Halloween in, say, mid-November. Nor would I write about Christmas in January or Easter in August. But here it is, six days after Veterans Day and I'm writing about veterans. ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman said I should. I mean, it wasn't in a one-on-one conversation, but his words shoved the notion from the back burner to front.

I was listening to Berman talking about veterans during his "Monday Night Football" halftime commentary, which he ended by saying something to the tune of, "We celebrate Veterans Day on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month every year, so if you're near a veteran tonight at 11, be sure to tell them thanks. And if you don't see a veteran until tomorrow, you can thank them then. Because it's never too late."

Berman's simple statement landed at the end of a weekend spent watching war movies with my boyfriend, who was in the Marines from 1989 to 1995. Didier is a patriot in ways that make me feel embarrassingly deficient, much like my father, who was an Army paratrooper from 1958 to 1961.

The truth of it is, I never gave military service all that much thought before getting to know Didier. As ashamed as I am to admit this, unless a veteran served time in a war, I sort of discounted their service. Truth of it is, I simply didn't understand what their service meant until I read a quote in an email Didier sent me.

It wasn't something he wrote, but a single sentence from an unknown source that summed it up so perfectly.

"A veteran -- whether active duty, retired or National Guard or reserve -- is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America, for an amount of up to and including their life."

To hand over yourself in such a way -- saying your life is now theirs to do with as they please for the next four or six years, or more -- is something I can't fathom doing myself. In the past, I looked at military service as something people chose to do after high school instead of going to college. That it was akin to a full-time job, except the full time was measured in years rather than hours.

I understood the rigors of boot camp and the sacrifices of being away from loved ones and home, but the blank-check business -- that was something I'd never considered.

Last weekend, Didier was fighting a cold and I was nursing a busted knee, so we used the down time to watch a marathon of the 2001 HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers." The series followed Easy Company (part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division) from boot camp through to the end of World War II.

The show was engrossing and educational, and emotional as hell. It was based on real men and actual events, and while it wasn't 100 percent historically factual on all counts, it was as close as was manageable within the confines of an 11-hour television series.

The show didn't glorify war. It didn't make it seem romantic or gloss over bad behavior. What it did was capture the essence of combat, as well as the spirit of the men who fought in the war. It was painful to watch, but by the end, I had a new appreciation for veterans, and I understood why those men came to be called the "greatest generation." I wish watching that show was mandatory. It changed me.

Even though the series was about soldiers fighting horrific battles, it caused me to recognize that those who enlist in times of peace do so knowing what they could face. Yet they sign and hand over their blank check anyway.

And for that, I offer my most sincere thanks. Along with an apology for not saying so sooner.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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