For all the incredible men and women who have fought to make this country the land of the free and the home of the brave…..
….I salute you.
And for those they left behind at home….
….those amazing individuals who watched them leave with tears and a heavy heart….
….all those who stood in silent support on the home front with worry and uncertainty and prayers for a safe return….
….this story is for you.
A long time ago in a land far away……I stood in a navy dress with brass buttons and shoulder pads wearing bright red lipstick as my Lee Press-On Nails desperately clutched a chain link fence and tears streamed down my face…..
….and I watched as my new husband sailed away.
Silently I sobbed and cried as the ship got smaller and smaller…..frantically running down the fence with eyes blinded by tears to try to catch one more glimpse before the ship turned the corner and headed out of the harbor.
Hundreds and hundreds of sailors lined the decks of the ship that day….standing at attention with their crisp white uniforms gleaming in the sun and their heads held high….as they left to fight the unknown.
Not one of those sailors knew what the future held.
Not one of those sailors knew what the fighting would bring.
Not one of those sailors knew if they would even return home.
And still they sailed on.
Days and weeks went by….and as the country watched….the conflict escalated.
Until one day I arrived at work to see terrifying night-time pictures flashing across the national news with bomb after bomb and explosion after explosion….
….a half a world away.
The fighting had begun.
And when I saw those explosions…..I stood silently as my world crumbled around me.
I was here and he was there…..
…..and the sheer helplessness of the situation overwhelmed me.
I wanted to talk to him….for him to reassure me that he was alright and that he was coming home and that he was going to sail back into the harbor on a sunny day wearing his dress whites on the deck of that ship….
….and that all was right with the world.
But it wasn’t.
And I felt my heart crack in two.
And then….suddenly……I heard my name over the loud-speaker at work. They said they needed me in the office….that I needed to go at once…..that I had a call from an officer.
From an officer?
I didn’t want a call.
Not even a little.
All the calls I had ever seen in the movies from officers during a war…..never ended well.
I entered the office and with shaking hands took the phone…..and I think I said hello…..the smallest tiniest hello I have ever said in my entire life that sounded like a cross between a squeak and a whisper.
“Mrs. Wood….this is a ship to shore call. We have your husband on the line. Please be aware that all conversations on this call will be repeated several times to transfer information to the ship. Please begin when you are ready,” boomed a loud voice at me over the line.
I didn’t understand.
A ship to shore call?
I didn’t know what to say…..so I simply said “Hello again?”
And then I heard it…..across the miles of land and ocean……the hello repeated from military personnel to military personnel……over and over and over again.
“Hello again.” “Hello again.” “Hello again.” “Hello again.”
Until it reached my husband half a world away.
And then the message came back from that sailor on a distant shore……”Hi cutie…..I’m fine.” ”Hi cutie…..I’m fine.” ”Hi cutie…..I’m fine.” ”Hi cutie…..I’m fine.”
He was fine?
He was okay?
He was safe?
I screamed and giggled and spun around and the heavens parted and I heard the hallelujah chorus. And then I shouted into the phone with all of the joy and exuberance and adoration I could muster…….”I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVE YOOOOOOOU.”
Except I forgot.
You see….the “I love you” didn’t end there.
It wasn’t just between us.
There were five people listening on the call.
And so it ended up sounding a little like this….. ”I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVE YOOOOOOOU.””I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVE YOOOOOOOU.” ”I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVE YOOOOOOOU.”
….”I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVE YOOOOOOOU.”
They smiled as they repeated it……those veteran military personnel.
And each of them said it with all the joy that my “I love you” was intended to convey.
And in the end…..
…..I didn’t care if the world was listening.
Because that sailor with the brown twinkling eyes didn’t miss a word.
And he knew that I adored him.
And would be waiting for the day he returned.
And winging its way back across that ship to shore line with the static and the beeps and the blips via half a dozen scratchy military voices….
.….he sent me the sweetest “I love you” I ever heard.
PS I know I’ve told this story before….but a holiday isn’t a holiday….
…..without a happily ever after.
Happy Memorial Day.