Veterans Day, for me, will begin like any other weekday. I will get out of bed just before 6 a.m., make breakfast for my two children, put them on the school bus and go to work. But for much of the day, I will be thinking about the friends, acquaintances and shipmates I accumulated during my nearly 14 years of naval service.
I will think of Lucy, a pen pal I acquired during a 2003 overseas deployment (and with whom I am still in touch). She was nine years old when our correspondence began. It was Lucy’s letters and e-mails that sustained me through periods of loneliness and doubt, when I wondered what I was doing thousands of miles from everyone and everything I loved. She told me of a trip her family took to D.C. in 2002, a mere nine months after someone hijacked an airplane and crashed it into the Pentagon building. I realized that she was able to enjoy her trip without fear because of what I was doing, and that made me feel better. I owe her a debt of gratitude for that.
I will think of my friend Carlos. He is a former U.S. Navy SEAL who became an accomplished triathlete after he left the service. Carlos lost the use of his lower body when he was shot in the back during a vicious firefight in Panama City. It would have been easy — understandable, even — for Carlos to descend into an abyss of bitterness and self-pity. Instead, he moved forward, becoming an elite wheelchair athlete and an inspiration to those with disabilities.
I will think of my friend Timothy, who served with me on board the USS George Washington, and again on shore duty in Virginia Beach. He was a master-at-arms, the Navy equivalent of a police officer. He had a silly sense of humor and a big, friendly smile. Timothy left shore duty in the summer of 2000 to serve aboard USS Cole, and was one of the 17 sailors killed when the ship was attacked on Oct. 12 of that year. He left behind a wife and two lovely daughters.
I will think of the older sailors who trained, mentored and guided me through every phase of my Navy career, from E-1 to E-6. I did my best to apply the lessons they taught me, and to impart those lessons to those who would be serving in the Navy long after I left the service. As I think of my former mentors, I will hope (not for the first time) that I did them proud.
I will think of the younger sailors I trained and mentored, many of whom are still on active duty. Some of them are serving overseas in the hottest of geopolitical hot spots. I will not dwell on the circumstances that have conspired to place them in harm’s way, but I will worry about their safety and hope they come home to their families in one piece. And I will remind myself how very proud I am of them.