I marched in the Veteran's Day Parade in Pittsburgh, and 1) I was surprised at how lightly attended the parade was. Time was, the sidewalks would be lined with people the entire parade route showing their appreciation, but this year, there were whole city blocks that didn't have anyone watching. and 2) I always feel good marching in the parade and having everyone clap and say "Thanks for my service", but sometimes I feel a little guilty that people are clapping for me even though I didn't see combat.
I sometimes wonder if I'm taking thanks that aren't really deserved. Too young for Vietnam and too old for the Gulf War. I'm purely a peacetime vet. I was marching with guys that saw combat and had stories that would straighten my hair, if I let it grow. I sometimes feel that I'm basking in reflected glory, that I don't deserve to be thanked for my service, when I consider what those guys went through. I don't envy the guys who saw combat, I would like to think that I would have volunteered or stepped forward should I have faced that situation. But I would never compare my tour of duty to those who really earned the title "veteran".
I'm glad I did what I did. Partially because coming out of high school, I didn't have very many options. I didn't have the grades or the maturity for college, and the parents didn't have the money. Had I gone to college right out of high school, I wouldn't have lasted one semester. So other than a dead end job or the streets, I joined the Navy. It did change my life. And I'm damn proud to say that I'm a squid, a galleyrat and a trusty shellback. But it still probes at the back of mind as to whether I really should be marching in the Veteran's Day parade when I barely consider myself a veteran.
That being said, thanks to all those who put on the uniform of their country and answered the call. Thanks to those who served before me, with me, and after me. And mostly, thanks to those who are serving now. Whether they do it because they truly feel that the country needs their service, or that they want to get money for college, and knock off a few rough edges. Their service is valued and needed, especially with the war in Afghanistan going as it is. Let's not get me started on that whole mess.